Who Hears the Voiceless? On Being a Nobody

The Invisible Couple in Bournemouth Gardens (Credit: © Copyright william )

I’m a nobody.

You might think “You have this website, and a twitter and views and people listen…”

Nah, they don’t. Not really.

Not compared to, say, someone who went and did a journalism degree, then worked at the local paper for a bit and then, they were a bit nerdy so they worked the science desk and the next thing you know they’re on BBC local news and it all goes uphill from there.

Compared to those people, I’m a nobody.

I don’t have those qualifications and I’m not going to go into the whole sob-story about what happened with that. This ain’t fucking X-Factor. I don’t want to win public approval with a pretty face and a sob-story – mainly because I only have one of those two.

…I’m damn pretty!

The fact is I dreamed of becoming a doctor. I wanted to do a PhD. In zoology, find some post-grad projects on some far-flung islands, whatever the weather, I just wanted to leave the towns and cities, leave the hustle and bustle, the constant grinding of gear on gear, the abattoir grinding of human bone and sinew in this machine, working away; I wanted to leave and just focus on this whale’s genitals or that parasitic worm, this rare mollusc or dream-of-dreams, that rare cat.

Some dreams don’t come true, no matter how much you sacrifice for them. No matter how hard you work, nor how long you work that hard and in that case my dream was not going to come true. Could it have? Situations being different? Sob story being less sob? Maybe. But it didn’t.

It’s reality. Successful people will tell you that’s not true and you can make anything happen if you work hard enough. This a complex of cognitive biases that lead to them thinking that. Because they achieved anyone who is ‘good enough’ must be able to as well.

Survivorship bias – the cognitive processing and understand of being the remaining member of a selection process generally ends up one of two ways – One, “I was the best so I survived!” or; two, survivor’s guilt. “Why am I the only one left?” Can you hazard a guess which one is more likely to come when the survival process is for a positive outcome, and which is for a negative?

One of the most famous images regarding Survivorship Bias – a bias countered by Abraham Wald and the Statistical Research Group of Colombia University. When planes returned from combat pocked with gunshot holes (seen here in red) Wald insisted that the areas of the plane with no holes (more white space) be immediately armoured. The US Military argued this decision as clearly the areas that had been shot needed more armour. Wald countered by noting that the planes that had been shot in those areas were the ones that returned. Implying getting shot on the whiter areas of the diagram is more likely to lead to loss of pilot and aircraft. (credit: McGeddon)

Then there’s the ‘just-world’ hypothesis, or the just-world fallacy. “You reap what you sow,”, “what comes around goes around,” the idea that bad things happens to bad people, good things happen to good people – to some extent the Eastern philosophies of karma, all tie into this.

The truth is awful things are happening to absolute angels out there, relentlessly, while devils are getting paid, honoured, respected and lauded for being the devils they are.

Combine those two things and you’re in possession of a heady cocktail of delusion as to how the world works.

Hard work is important, only the truly privileged will get anywhere without hard work – some people do go places without hard work! But luck is the single biggest determining factor in whether you will be successful or not.

I’ve worked hard, for a long time, and at some times harder than others, to have something happen. It’s just never worked out. Whether it was my writing or my studies, applications for opportunities and jobs, whether it was my own awkwardness, insecurity and alienation or whether I was ostracised and disrespected – it never worked out.

The thing is though, when I left university and gave up my studies that’s when my real education began – and  no, this ain’t gonna be some ‘school of life’, that-twat-in-the-pub talk. I mean real education.

I read more textbooks, cover-to-cover, outside of university than I ever did in university. I couldn’t afford the time when I was studying, I had deadlines to reach. I read my pages, my extracts and the necessary and did the work.

I rounded my knowledge about my subject matter more outside of university than I ever did in university. The way we learn, the universities and colleges themselves didn’t happen by accident – they have social roots going back millennia and thus sociological baggage just as old. All of that is, actually, remarkably important for understanding why the organisation grinds on as it does. Nobody taught me this.

How to teach? What to teach? Why teach? The system of education we have did not form in a vacuum, and, mercy-of-mercies it also doesn’t have to be that way.

There’s a lot of money making sure it does, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

I learned skills, for example improving my guitar ability, which translated to increased pattern recognition in other similar musical systems. This gave me an ability to ‘enjoy’ music, to flow with it, and follow it, rather than have it be a menial frustration, a consistent chase and then I realised.

Wait.

The same is true of study, of knowledge, of reading, of learning, of growing. The more you do of it, the more skills you develop to do the doing of it. The more skills you develop the better you flow, the less it feels like work and thus the more you enjoy it.

A pile of books of no significance beyond contextually. Literally just a media device used to break up the text and provide interest and flow to the page (Credit: Latemplanza)

As a result I delved into more journal articles (where freely available), pop science books, text books, history books – developed a strong love for Ancient Roman history – moved on, got textbooks about sharks, about brains, about life, I’ve got a book ‘Animal Architecture’ by Karl von Frisch. I bought this because I was interested in the extended phenotype. That is the external bodies organisms build themselves that are, effectively, an extension of their genetics. Then I did a double-take on the name…von Frisch, I recognised it. It’s the bee waggle dance guy! Karl von Frisch is literally the man who helped recognise and understand that bees communicate to each other via a waggle-dance. I’ve got books on environmental and climate science written by people I bumped into at my former university, I’ve got old texts, new texts, out-dated texts, up-to-date texts, academic texts, popular texts and, of course, mandatory Douglas Adams.

Sometimes I take breaks, of course. You can’t continuously fill your head with knowledge any more than you can continuous fill your car with petrol – at one point it starts overflowing and leaves you in a desperately inflammatory situation. But learning is not something I think you should have to ‘cram’. Our current system makes it so. Cram and specialise, cram and specialise – that seems to be the pattern. It didn’t work for me. I wanted to go slow, and understand. Diversify and speciate. I wanted to learn to grow, not learn for a specific job or career. I just wanted to see aspects of the world around me as clearly as we knew them to be.

Sometimes my eye would wander here, my mind drift over there, sometimes I’d want to go move in a new direction and sometimes the winds of curiosity would just carry me that way. Whatever, cram and specialise is not how I learn!

I am better qualified now to do any of the things some undergrad hiring program would give a kid with a bachelor’s degree and yet…I’m a nobody.

I have no ‘ins’. I don’t know anyone in the business. I used to have one but that situation is incredibly complicated.

Even then there was always a feeling from me that I was a hidden shame. ‘The Help’ if you will. Maybe it’s not the case and it’s my mind playing tricks but it goes to show how deep those wounds cut, how long those scars stay. The pain of the working-class person with smarts. I will always have to fight for legitimacy, sometimes by underhanded methods. Maybe this is why I was so sympathetic to Edmund the Bastard in my King Lear write-up, whilst previous academics had not been. Maybe they never knew the role of the outsider, the illegitimate, whose work would never be done.

When I was a working-class boy I was bullied and picked on for trying, for learning, for wanting to do well. It was putting me in danger so I stopped. That made me ridiculously unhappy. It took me a few years but I picked myself back up and got back to what I was good at. But then I realised the world I wanted to be a part of, they didn’t really like me either.

They didn’t like that I swore so fucking much, or that I could be brusque to the point of rudeness. I didn’t know then that I was autistic or else I’d have excused the latter. As for the former I am a firm appreciator of all language and think and really good, hard fuck placed at the right point in the sentence is better than anything some flowery Regency era twat could have written.

The fact is I am, as of right now, the sole proprietor of a blog that I intend to turn into a multi-media machine with the aim of disseminating academic knowledge with equality and fairness, to the masses…

…and I haven’t a single qualification in how to fucking do it.

Stolen from a Christian blog without permission…Maybe I am a bad person and that’s why bad things happen to me! (Credit: Unknown)

I don’t know SEO bullshit, I don’t know outreach. Networking can fuck off, I’m autistic, if you put a gun to my head and said “Networking event, eat your own bollocks, or I blow your brains out?” I’m either dead or taste-testing testis.

But that’s my point? Isn’t it? That’s the point of We Lack Discipline? To show the people who don’t know what they’re doing that they can do it too. They can join in.

It’s easy to look at qualifications as being the be-all and end-all of learning, society certainly does – removing the merits of people like myself because we don’t have the correct letters, arbitrarily given, before or after our names. But to me they are not the be-all and end-all, they are the fuck-all. For me the value is in knowing, and continuing to know that you will endeavour to know.

I might be a nobody now, but if I keep at this, and if you keep supporting me, there’s a real chance we could make a somebody of me and something out of this. There’s also the very real chance it goes nowhere, but will I have wasted my time? Already I can say no. I have been afforded a platform to share my passion for things I don’t have many people, or many outlets, to share them with. I have enjoyed it.

The astronomy stuff was new and exciting, I’d never really been into astronomy before. Sadly there are emotional reasons it was sort of put on the back-burner but it will return. The universe is one big, imposing, majestic place with so much going on. It will be back.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of Roman history and that is one facet of Ancient Western civilisation that is one facet of the process of global civilisation that can all be learned, and talked about.

I have, for fear of ballsing it up, barely touched biology and that’s pretty much my specialist subject if anything could be considered it.

I’ve got a lot to talk about, I am not done yet, and I want this to grow, to take in more people, to get bigger and better so we can really have a multi-class, multi-race, multi-ethnic, open, accessible hub for people to learn shit in an engaging, entertaining way.

In a way We Lack Discipline is hostile to the ‘Old Guard’ – those grim-faced snobs who think education is only for the best-of-the-best like reading King Lear is reserved for the fucking SAS. There are an increasing number of scientific communicators, academic communicators out there who realises the values of all voices in their disciplines. Perspectives change, beliefs change…

…I’m going to do it. I’m going to finally quote Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

On Angel’s pondering the class stratification of society, particularly since he is a gentleman in want of a wife, Hardy gives us this observation;

“…his experience of women, which, having latterly been extended from the cultivated middle-class into the rural community, had taught him how much less was the intrinsic difference between the good and wise woman of one social stratum and the good and wise woman of another social stratum, than between the good and bad, the wise and the foolish, of the same stratum or class.”

Translating from 18th century ponce, there are more similarities between bad and foolish people, and good and wise people of both classes than there are differences between classes.

I like to believe that. I have my insecurities, sure, but among people who meet me on my level I rarely have trouble finding my feet and fitting in. When I am caught between bad fools who can advance me and good, wise people who offer nothing, though, I’ll stick with the good and wise. I only hope that I can meet more of the good and wise from the strata ‘above’ me, who have respect enough to elevate me.  

Sorry to be so personal. I guess I recognised in some personal troubles of mine right now something of the reason I started We Lack Discipline in the first place. I feel ‘othered’ and ignored. I feel like another voiceless voice crying out to be heard, and for reassurance that what I have to be heard is worth hearing. I don’t want anyone to feel like that simply for pursuing the adventure of knowledge.

That’s why We Lack Discipline is. To tell you, whatever your place, whatever your social status, it is okay to want to know.

The Importance of Perseverance

Perseverance Rover and it’s instruments – (Credit: NASA)

I’m not talking about in real life. I mean, perseverance has many important uses in real life, if you wish to undergo trials, tribulations and challenges, anyway. If you want an easy life and to not care by all means pass it up, it inevitably leads to suffering.

No, I am talking about NASA’s latest Mars Rover.

“But haven’t we already had rovers on Mars? What’s the point in a new one? How much did that cost? That could have paid for X, Y or Z?” I hear a lot of people cry.

Look, I get it. Earth has a shit-ton of problems and they’re not fixing themselves. Do you know what has demonstrated itself, time and again, to be proven to solve problems? Extra knowledge.

That’s what Perseverance is all about.

If I have released this article then Perseverance survived its so-called ‘seven minutes of hell’ – the atmospheric entry and landing on the planet of Mars, and is presumably all working and operational.

In which case I can guarantee there are a lot of people already very busy, and very anxious. Why? Because this Mars mission aims to answer two of the biggest questions humans have about Mars.

One was most famously posited by David Bowie. “Is there life on Mars?” – the answer is likely no, but the follow up question is “Was there life on Mars?” the answer to which our current research can only provide a shrug. We don’t know.

There seems to be evidence that there was, at a time, liquid water on Mars but I’ve got a glass of water next to me it doesn’t mean it’s growing life in it…although it probably is.

There have been some rocks that might have had what looked like ‘stuff’ in them, but ‘stuff’ is not proof.

Perseverance is intended to try to find definitive evidence, by working harder, digging deeper and investigating more thoroughly. Especially with the discovery of phosphine in the Venusian atmosphere there is an intra-spacerace going on. Who gets probed for life first, Mars or Venus? The phosphine announcement was the Venus camp setting out their stall and what Perseverance finds may make people flock to their camp.

The Red Planet has held the captive imaginations of Earth for thousands of years (Credit: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

The discovery, for sure, without doubt, of life existing or having existed outside of Earth will be the single biggest discovery in human history. It will change the way we think about life, the universe, ourselves and others. It may, cosmos will it, help us realise how small, petty and useless our squabbles are and put them aside for a greater purpose. The exploration and understanding of all that surrounds us, terrestrially and beyond.

The other big question Perseverance is trying to answer is “Are humans sent there guaranteed to die?” because the next step for NASA, after Perseverance, is a manned mission. It has an experiment ‘Moxie’ – the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment – intended to discover whether oxygen can be produced or extracted from the Martian atmosphere to be used as fuel for people and machines (e.g. a propellant.)

Why would you want to go to Mars? Well say somehow humans get over their materialistic bullshit and don’t consider the potential for exploitable resources there, why wouldn’t you? Why do humans want to climb Mount Everest? Why do humans want to go to Santorini? Why do humans go kayaking? Why do some humans use sonic toothbrushes? Why do some people pick a red car and some a black one? When you get down to it a lot of what humans do, indeed a lot of what they invest a lot of time and money doing is utterly redundant.

So besides potential resource exploitation, establishment of the first semi-permanent settlement of humans off planet Earth, the potential use of Mars as a stop-gap base on the way to further manned-mission to, say, the Moons of Jupiter like Europa, the general knowledge and understanding we would gain of ourselves, our universe and this entirely alien atmosphere. Besides all of that – why does a manned mission to Mars need a reason? What makes everything you do so vital that you feel the need to ask that question?

“We choose to go to the moon…” President John F. Kennedy once said, “…and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…” That much everyone knows. But he continues, “…because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Kennedy giving his famous ‘moon’ speech at Rice University, 1962 (Used without permission via space.com)

Perseverance.

It’s not an American quality, just like NASA is not an American mission.

Perseverance could serve to organise all of humankind and measure the best of our energies and skills.

We accept challenges, and we win.

Kennedy ended that speech with this passage;

“Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said “Because it is there.”

Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

Thank you.”

Space is still there, full of mysteries. The moon has been unwalked by human feet since the 1970s and the planets still have not felt our rude touch.

That most hazardous, most dangerous and greatest adventure may have lost news coverage, gone out of fad and fashion but it never ended. Scientists, astronauts, mathematicians, programmers and engineers all worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure our foray into the great unknown was always in our sights, always in our dreams, always a mission and was never given up on.

Perseverance.

Top Ten Cats #10 – The Pallas’ Cat – Otocolobus manul

Kitten tax! A manul kitten looking just…I mean…Look if you met me you’d be like “That not the kinda bloke that turns to mush over kittens!” but…I am. You can already note the difference between the denser undercoat of fur and the fluffier outer coat. (Credit: Parken Zoo)

Nick-named after a Prussian biologist, the Pallas’ cat, or manul, is relatively small and extremely, and I mean ridiculously, fluffy, with low-set, rounded ears.

That basically gives it the appearance of a guilty stuffed-toy. I mean, it is going to be hard to talk about these little guys without getting all misty-eyed and squeeing. They’re small, fluffy, tiny round ears and big fluffy feet. They look like what toy stuffed-cats look like.

They were ‘discovered’ – in that way that everything was, which means a rich, white person (the aforementioned Prussian Biologist, Peter Simon Pallas, in this case) wrote about and/or shot one – in 1776 around the Lake Baikal region in modern Russia.

Man, Lake Baikal…that’s an article of its own on We Lack Discipline one day.

Today we understand it has massive range and distribution – basically stretching from Siberia to Armenia via the Himalayas. This is one of the reasons they are so fluffy, is temperatures can be very low and they need to keep themselves warm.

Diagram showing the distribution of the manul in the wild. As you can see, and especially if we compared it to other cat distribution ranges, it is quite sizeable. (credit: BhagyaMani)

As a result of its large distribution, though, it is one of the few species we’re likely to see on this list not of concern to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and not on their infamous red-list of endangered species or species of concern.

That is as of their 2020 reviews, and that’s not to say the cats don’t have their problems. The region they inhabit, like much of the world’s wilderness, is being rapidly inhabited, exploited or destroyed.

Often when they don’t look adorably adorable, manuls are in the habit of looking grumpily adorable. Don’t you just want to throw this cute little floof a pika and cheer it up? (credit: Albinfo)

Being small cats they mainly hideout in rocky crags, small caverns and crevices and it eats small things – rodents, bunnies, pika, that sort of thing.

One of the most remarkable things about the manul is, unlike so many other smaller cat species, they have round pupils, rather than the centred-vertical slit-type that most cats have.

They are absolute masters of disguise, as anyone who hasn’t seen one in a zoo will tell you. Their coat is perfectly coloured for the kind of sandy-grassy-shadows they like to dwell in and there is a famous image of a manul sitting among rocks and the challenge is to spot the cat.

It’s the game that every shy kitten plays when I’m around. WHERE THE FUCK’S THE CAT!? I JUST WANT TO SEE THE CAT! (copyright Steven Ross – Used without permission, if you would like the image removed contact us)

There’s not a lot more I can tell you about them, I’m afraid, because they’re much of a catness! A very catty sort of cat, is a manul. There’s a very cute picture of one with its feet up in a zoo, so I’ll probably just put that and be done.

Look at those adorable toebeans! (Credit: I have no idea! I’ve seen this on Facebook and Reddit and couldn’t trace an original source. If you are it and want due credit or this image removed then please contact us)

Want to understand what cats are? Why not read our Introduction?

Or if you want to see what number 9 is why not check out the enigmatic jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi)!

Top Ten Cats: An Introduction

Being completely subjective these are my #1 cats, my own cat, who passed away last year. Rest in Purrs my lovely Smoozebean, and very small in the top left is a yellow-and-red framed photo of my old cat Sylvester. (Credit: Smooze and Sylvester)

Content Warning: There are gifs of animals hunting animals.

Firstly I would just like to say;

LIFE
DOMAIN
KINGDOM
PHYLUM
CLASS
ORDER
FAMILY
GENUS
SPECIES

What does that mean? It is the basic scheme of modern scientific classification of organisms. I will use some of these terms below, some of them are debated, the only thing drunker and more pedantic than evolution is biologists, now let’s move on.

What are cats? Evolutionarily they’re caught somewhere between a switchblade and a teddy bear. Are they even real, or are they just a meme made up by the internet? It is hard to tell.

Well, it’s not. Because we have genome sequencing and all fancy-pants stuff like that.

Short aside, it might seem like an amazing thing to do but genetically modifying a living organism is actually incredibly dull. Even amplifying DNA like they are doing for the Covid tests – via PCR or ‘polymerase chain reaction’ – sounds like things people fire lasers and fight you for but it’s just spinning shit round in a centrifuge and adding some chemicals that will probably give you cancer if you spill them on your hands.

Cats are more than just a 2019 horror film based upon an insipid Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based upon an etherised fever dream of T.S. Eliot. They are members of the kingdom of animals.

Specifically they are a carnivore.

Now I know language is a very fluid thing but in biology when we say something is a carnivore we don’t mean it eats meat. Humans, for example, are not carnivores, even though they eat meat.

No, carnivores are a specific ‘order’ of the ‘class’ of life known as mammals. It’s all a classification thing, maybe I’ll teach it to you properly one day once I’ve gotten over the subtle, lingering trauma of having to learn it for exams as an undergrad only to completely forget it later, either way it’s why I did the intro I did so scroll back to the top for my cheat sheet (added bonus, you get to look at my Smoozy again!).

The order Carnivora – to give it its wanky scientific name – is divided into two sub-orders, the Feliformia – cat-likes; and Caniformia  – dog-likes.

Needless to say, cats are in the cat-like group! Specifically they are in the family Felidae, referred to as felids.

Mandatory kitten tax. Not my Smooze as a baby, she was taken in as a stray. This is just a cute little black and white kitten. (Credit Marko Milivojevic)

You might think, because prehistoric cats like the sabre-tooth cats, are associated with humans they are a relatively recent group but evidence of felids has been found dating back around 30-odd million years.

To put that in perspective the earliest hominid (that is the biological family of great apes to which we humans, the genus homo, belong) ancestor is likely around 20-25 million years old.

So cats are older than great apes, therefore they are better. This is scientifically debated and might just because I find cats so irresistibly cute, apes less so.

They have come in many different shapes, sizes and forms but nowadays there are two main types; big cats and small cats.

Now let me help you with some of this incredibly technical scientific language here.

Big cats are generally, but not necessarily, big.

Small cats – you won’t believe this! – are generally, but not necessarily small.

Let me explain – the ‘big cats’ generally refers to the genus Panthera, or at least the sub-family Pantherinae, where species like lions and tigers dwell. But so does the snow-leopard which is not strictly speaking huge.

The ‘small cats’ generally refers to the sub-family Felinae, which has a few genera (plural of genus) in it, including some lynx families, some of which can be quite big. Say, equivalent to the size of a snow-leopard.

If you want to know one of the key reasons I ended up losing patience with biology it’s because there are people who make it their career’s work to argue what constitutes a big cat and what constitutes a small cat and – okay – I get it, from an evolutionary point of view, to understand what came from where I recognise the validity in the work. But fuck off.

Now this where I am going to have my felid knowledge tested but to the best of my understanding, excluding the poles; specifically Antarctica, Australia, and other various isolated islands and island chains, cats have, at one point, of their own accord (so before humans domesticated them and distributed them all over the place) been known to have existed everywhere.

Until the great Pleistocene extinction, North America was dominated by the Machairodontinae – the sabre-toothed cats. In fact the creation of the isthmus, the land-bridge, between North and South America, is associated with the inevitable decline of the ‘Terror Birds’ that were previously the dominant predators of South America and one hypothesised reason is that they couldn’t compete with the migration of the cats of North America. I’m getting side-tracked by cat tales.

A drawing of Smilodon populator, the largest known species of the Machairodontinae and possibly one of the largest felids to have ever existed. The bulkier bodies, and sloped-form, almost more hyena-like, are believed to have helped them catch and kill prey significantly larger than them. (Credit: DiBgd)

Obviously Europe, Africa, Asia all had their cat species. Britain even used to have lions, so from the West to the East, North to the South, if it is part of the main land a cat has killed and eaten something there.

Even in some places where cat species didn’t reach, feliforms did. The fossa, made famous by the movie Madagascar, evolved to fill the feline niche on that African island.

There are also cat-like Marsupials (a sort of class-within-a-class of mammals, they don’t gestate their young and give birth they just develop little beans in pouches) in Australia and surrounding islands, e.g. the tiger quoll, as well as the extinct Thylacoleonidae, sometimes referred to as ‘marsupial lions’.

I’m huge on my predators, but anyone who has hit me up on the topic knows there are two biological forms I admire, respect and find attractive (outside of humans) above all others; cats and sharks.

Why? …Toxoplasma gondii?

Possibly, but also for the same reason cats (or cat-like, cat-shaped or cat-style creatures) have existed pretty much across the entire globe at some point in history and sharks have been killing stuff in the sea since before dinosaurs existed.

They have, from my subjective eye, the single most elegant hunting form. Cats for land, sharks for sea. As mentioned before, evolution happens by accident, nothing is ‘designed’ but I genuinely do not think conscious intelligence could design a better aquatic killing machine than the shark. They’re remarkable.

Back to cats, though. The body shape of a cat, the proportions, they change slightly depending on what the cat eats, or how the cat hunts it, but they are just evolutionarily honed, individual killing machines.  Sure there are more efficient predators, but sometimes it’s not just about what you do, or how well you do it, it’s the style and grace you do it with.

Have you ever seen a dog catching a ball out of the air? It’s smooth, efficient, it works but it’s like watching a van deliver a parcel. Have you ever seen a cat catch a bird out of the air? It’s elegant, stylish, graceful and efficient, like if German police caught criminals using Bugattis on the autobahn.

Have you ever seen a video of a dog do a stupid jump? It makes you laugh but it’s not unexpected, is it? Have you ever seen a video of a cat missing a jump? It’s hilarious because cats are so poised and graceful.

A cheetah hunting is one of the most stunningly beautiful acts. It is a dance of natural savagery, a waltz of desperation and fear, arrogance and defiance, the script written on-the-fly before your very eyes. If you claim to enjoy ballet but cannot enjoy watching a cheetah hunt you are nothing but a twat and a liar. They are one and the same.

A clip of a Cheetah hunting a gazelle from the BBC Series Big Cat Diaries (one of my favourites). What you can notice in this clip is the use of the tail as a counterweight, to adjust the fine-balance of the cheetah and aids its constantly rapidly needing to change direction. What you unfortunately miss is the incredible flexibility of the spine when a cheetah is at full sprint. I won’t say too much, Cheetahs will be on the list so I’ll talk more then. (Credit: BBC)

Tigers are powerhouses, I’ve seen a video of a Bengal tiger literally stomping on the head of, and stripping a gharial, a type of crocodile, of its skin in seconds.

Lions are sex-divided gangsters. The big boys don’t fight unless it’s really, REALLY needed, but the ladies hold down the fort with hunting and basic protection. They act intelligently, as one, in a pack. They demonstrate levels of social intelligence generally thought not to exist in cats.

Jaguars are powerful jungle ninjas, and semi-aquatic too, they have no problem with swimming. But they are a ghost in the forest, with such powerful paws and jaws for that quick, clean kill.

Snow-leopards are invisible.

Clouded-leopards are jungle ghosts.

 The black-footed cat is the cutest little thing that’ll rip your hand off.

The fishing cat, would you believe it, loves to fish?

A fishing cat, he swears it was THIS BIG! I love their little rounded ears. (Credit: Kelinahandbasket)

MY GOD I LOVE THEM! They’re a murderers’ row of the most adorable bastards.

How I am going to go through the entire history of cats and pick out the best ten species of them, I don’t know. But that’s what I’m going to try to do.

I’m going to have to go and research cats on the internet. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. Wish me luck.

Ready to move on – check out number 10 – The Pallas’ Cat or Manul (Otocolobus manul)

Silence is Golden: The Assassination of Sia’s “Music”

A revised poster for the movie ‘Music’ by me. Considered fair use and all that, fuck you, sue me. (Credit: Pixabay, Hanway Films and Pineapple Lasagne)

I’ve already set out my patsy, well it’s time to pull the fucking trigger. But first, like any evil villain in this scenario I am going to reveal my motivation.

Mine is not a selfless motivation. I do not advocate for the autistic community beyond advocating for myself and any other struggling autistic and non-neurotypical artists out there. Nobody assassinates someone else without standing to gain.

But you also can’t come out looking pristine. That’s too suspicious. So forgive me, but please read as I beat myself up a little bit.

I’ve danced around the subject enough times. I have admitted I studied biology, at a well-respected institution (at the time – I don’t know their ranking nowadays) but that I dropped out.

I’m a flunky. I’ll admit that, too. Like so many other working-class boys, girls and non-binaries with no safety nets, relying on access to whatever support-carrot is dangled in front of us for free. The truth is if you don’t meet quality control on ‘their’ conveyor belt there’s only so long you have to squish yourself into shape before they throw you out.

Without that safety net, you hit the ground hard – SPLAT – and recovery from there is all will, because there’s not a doctor on this planet who knows how to put the delicate ornament that is a mixture of mind, body and motivation back together.  

The reason I’m a flunky is not because I’m some ill-willed flake who couldn’t take his punches and the pressure got too much. It wasn’t because I was in too deep, couldn’t handle the work and wasn’t good enough. I am strong, smart and motivated.

To even get my place on my undergraduate degree I woke at 4:20am, to be showered and caffeinated in time to catch a 5am train to take me to do my foundational certificate, 4 days a week, whilst working part time another two days. I did so well on my foundation certificate I earned from a bottom-rung university that I managed to take the elevator up to the top floors, I moved to a much better school with a much better reputation.

Things started to go wrong, though. Not in my university life, but in my real life. I had relationship troubles, bereavements and a family member with cancer to struggle with. So I drank red wine, I did my work, I did my socialising, I did my caring, I drank red wine and I worked and worked until Easter break came along and then – something snapped. My brain was fried.

At one time I got probed and prodded by every doctor, nurse and mental health specialist you could imagine. I got cast out, ignored, dismissed, diagnosed, re-diagnosed more times than I can even count because half the time I was so strung out on tranquilisers I shouldn’t have been able to move but still my body kept rocking, my foot kept tapping, and I screamed piercing screams. Heart rending screams. If you’ve never heard a grown man scream, the low, guttural howl, interspersed with occasional high-notes of true unbodily horror, of someone in true, spiritual, existential distress, then you don’t know what a sight and sound, what a visceral terror I must have been to everyone around me.

People stop and stare when you do that. They don’t help. They avoid you. You’re a broken danger to them. They feel bad to be in your company not because they feel bad for you, but because you make them feel uncomfortable.

Do you know what? Fuck ‘em, because I can promise you I felt worse.

Summer came and I woke up damn near small-hours-o’-clock to drag my arse to my university (that I had to commute to) in the midst of the worst mental health episode I have ever experienced, doped up to my eyeballs on every medication they could give you, including healthy (and by that I mean enough to stun an elephant) doses of benzodiazepines and do you know how many exams I failed?

DUCK EGG – ZERO – ZILCH – FUCK ALL – NADA – NONE – Not a single fucking one.

Compared to most of the people I was studying with I was a fucking cognitive hoss. If brains were balls I’d have been carrying my nutsack in a fucking dump-truck. I achieved something that should have been, for any normal human, impossible. I did it strung-out on pills, having done so little study because most of my time was spent rocking in a chair making noises or pacing up and down and hitting myself in the head I didn’t have the time or inclination to read my notes, or check my textbooks. Did it do me any good? Nah, I was broken. I dropped out. I had to.

I have since been diagnosed on the spectrum, ASD, autistic spectrum disorder, and it was a diagnosis that made a lot of my life make sense.

Suddenly I had to re-evaluate every wall I’d turned my knuckles blood-red and dripping on, every door I’d punched or kicked a hole through, every time I punched or slapped myself in the face and every time I’d paced, screaming, ranting hurtfully at those around me who just wished the best for me, or even just paced up-and-down repeating the words, over and over and over.

With hindsight what I had experienced during my time at university was an ‘autistic burnout’.

‘Autistic burnout’ has only very recently entered into academic literature. Autistic people have been talking about it for years, as far as I can tell. That’s from my gathering of anecdotal evidence but, shit, if the anecdotes are there why aren’t the academics looking for them?

It is only recently that autistic members of the community have had a say at all, never mind in how their condition is perceived. Autistic ‘meltdowns’ have been known for quite some time and the thinking was that this ‘burnout’ was just another meltdown but…holy fucking shit isn’t. There are similarities, sure, just as lighting a stick of dynamite has similarities to detonating a nuke – and I’d argue those are the differences of scale we’re talking here.

This is one of the biggest problems with ‘Music’. Even the academics studying autism have been deaf to the voices of autistic people for years. Suddenly Sia is going to come along, make a movie with next to no knowledge whatsoever, and we’re all supposed to go “Aww, how heartwarming!” and move on.

Nuh-uh. You fucked up, and perpetuated an abuse by ignorance that even those significantly smarter than you are guilty of. The autistic community is sick of this shit and now demands to be heard. That’s not a crime, that’s not a witch-hunt, that’s years of feeling second-class spewing out from a large group of very, righteously, angry people.

Let me use another analogy, since one of the characteristics of autism is being overwhelmed by sensory information. Imagine looking at the sun. Now a meltdown is what would usually happen. You look at the sun for a moment and your body goes “That was fucking daft!” you look away, generally with your eyes closed and even though you’re okay in the moment that lingering scar of the sun on your eyes stays there, blinding you, as an after-image.

An autistic burnout is akin to being forced to keep looking at the sun. Maybe not constantly, maybe you keep melting down, turning away but eventually you are made to turn your head, open your eyes and look and look and look and eventually you burn your eyes, you end up with permanent damage. It never goes away.

It never went away. I was always a different person after my burnout and, to be honest, I never liked that person much. He shied away more than he used to, backed down quicker than he used to, put himself in fewer positions of danger, he took fewer risks, cared more about himself and others around him and it pissed me off because it led to him achieving so little.

Music, the character, has a type of autism where she feels that all the time. Those headphones she wears are to drown out the deafening screams of everybody’s whispers, the eye-movements are there so that she doesn’t permanently damage them looking at the metaphorical sun. She is the character in this movie who experiences the highest joys and the hardest pains and yet they’re hardly acknowledged. As if her head is empty. Like she’s some kind of invertebrate immune to pain and free to be restrained or uncomfortable, dragged around and worn like an accessory. It is fucking disgusting to people like me who feel like our voices do not matter, our pain is never considered and like other people have ‘real’ problems and ours are just so many dragons and unicorns – all invisible – not really there.

Back to my story, after the point of ‘autistic burnout’ you’re damaged goods to everyone else. I was an honest man, worried about the ever present danger of needing a day to unwind, to relax, I always used to disclose health issues on application forms for jobs and, funny, no one ever responded.

I was told I was ‘brave’ at an interview to be a shelf-stacker in Sainsbury’s one time, though.

This person who, intoxicated to the eyeballs on, admittedly necessary, tranquilisers managed to pass exams most people couldn’t even understand was ‘brave’ for putting himself out to do a job he could put a team together and help design, build and code a robot to do.

Welcome to my world, Curious Idiots™. Sia, welcome to the real life of an autistic. I’m right here, right now, reaching out a hand to you. If you want to work together on something, let’s do it. Let’s do autism justice.

I applied to work as a counter clerk at the Post Office and was turned down for a failure to answer some of the questions. I had merely highlighted that I felt the question was a redundancy, given that, by its wording, the subject matter had already been covered – exactly the kind of efficiency pedantry you’d expect of an autistic person. It is a demonstration of our usefulness to businesses since we can then help reduce redundant and costly processes.

But I didn’t get the job.

Also I didn’t give off a ‘friendly’ vibe, which could have something to do with my resting bitch face, a face I have learned to keep since moving my face the way that feels natural often leaves people confused and uncomfortable. Music’s various facial contortions do not exist in a lot of the autistic population because they’ve had them beaten, mocked and bullied out of them by her age. My facial expression could have also had something to do with the fact that I was being asked dumb questions to justify being a till-monkey for minimum wage.

As a result I have been without gainful employment, that is to say nobody has been willing to pay for me to work my arse off the way that I do on a fairly regular basis, for coming up ten years now.

This is where ‘Music’ hurts me most.

It says nothing to me. In fact it is, as best as I can tell, not aimed at a non-neurotypical audience at all. Unless that’s what those entire dodgy playhouse moments with the foam rubber and stupid costumes were about but, personally, my audio-visual stim is some heavy beats and to shut my eyes, so you’re barking up the wrong tree.

The scenes where Music is being physically restrained are highly disturbing. As far as I know it’s a practice, prone restraint, that is not even of debated validity anymore. It is outright dangerous. Ebo saying “I’m crushing her with my love…” came across as not only something an abuser would say but extremely rapey at the same time.

And let’s talk about restraint, shall we. Let’s be frank, too. It kills. It has killed. It will kill. Forcibly holding down people is, funnily enough, a dangerous thing to do. There’s no love involved, only fear. Fear of the harm that person may cause you, may causes your belongings, your home, or themselves. But what about the harm restraint causes the restrained? There are charities out there dedicated to the understanding, and ending, of this practice as wrong and harmful and who do so in honour of those whose deaths restraint has caused.

When one man of colour, Eric Garner, was restrained to death during his arrest, his final words “I can’t breathe” that event, and those words, became a slogan for a mass-movement for equality, accountability and change. A recognition of humanity and how it should be respected. How no human being should have to suffer a death through restraint.

Yet numerous disabled people have found themselves in the same position and society didn’t get up on mass to support them. It’s like a disabled person in distress is not a human being. Ebo, early on, says something along the lines of “In my village they see it as a curse.” Well do you know what, mate, we’re not so much more enlightened in the big Western cities either. The bulk of the population is ignorant of autism. My own family are ignorant of autism even after I got my diagnosis and asked them to look it up. They still don’t know how to handle me when I’m distressed.

At one point I started having a meltdown in a busy supermarket, my father, noticing me stimming by repeatedly knocking my hand on the till side, grabbed me by the wrist to stop my stim. I nearly punched him. I forcibly pulled my wrist from his hands and stormed out of the supermarket barging into several people on the way. I then slumped in a quiet corner and rocked for twenty minutes. My father left, he never looked for me, he never tried to calm me down, he was angry with me. I walked home.

That’s from someone restraining my wrist. If I were in a facility, if I were having a meltdown in public and the police were called, I am a big, strong man. The level of restraint required would be significant. I would do harm to someone else, I wouldn’t mean to but if you make it your business to get in my way when I’m melting down prepare for the fucking consequences. The fact is I am the kind of person who could be killed by restraint. I would need heavy restraint, dangerous restraint. It bothers me.

An autistic meltdown is, to define it simply, a brain being so overwhelmed by the information, in terms of quantity and intensity, it has taken in, that it fries the circuits. When you fry the circuits in a mechanical object it just stops working, but bodies have systems to keep them going, to keep them alive, so the person doesn’t shut off. Instead it is full-danger mode. It feels like you have just been dunked in a pool of lava, head to toe, drowning and burning at the same time, suffocating on molten rock. You flail, you scream, you say things, repeat yourself over and over, you rock, you slap yourself, punch yourself. I, not too long ago, had a meltdown where afterwards I asked someone who was there “Did I punch myself? Because my jaw hurts.” I didn’t even remember doing it.

Autism is serious fucking business, not a philanthropic marketing opportunity.

It shocks me how a movie can be so seemingly ‘inclusive’, to have gone through the SJW tickboxes and done an excellent job ticking off so many and yet the main thread of the film, this ‘disability’ – it’s used as an accessory, promotes stigmatic associations with the condition, and is ultimately just a MacGuffin to teach our heart the meaning of ‘twue wove’.

Apparently Sia has defended the use of a neurotypical actress to play the role of music, stating in an interview on Australian News show 10 News First that the film is ‘not a documentary’ and that she tried to work with a non-verbal girl but found it ‘unpleasant and stressful’. I’m not sure if the autistic girl found it unpleasant and stressful, or Sia did. Probably both.

Probably the poor autistic kid had just read the script, that’d make me feel stressed and unpleasant. It’s like reading a smoothie of shit, piss and cliché.

To make matters worse Sia then went on several ranty exchanges with people on the spectrum about how she was being judged before they had seen the movie, about people with ‘special needs’ and essentially made it abundantly clear she had no clue about the realities of autism. She has no clue what an autistic person is, how an autistic person lives or the validity of an autistic person. Maybe she has some ‘autistic’ friend but me having an Indian friend does not qualify me to write about the Bengal famine without speaking to him and dozens of others affected first – and then I definitely couldn’t cast a non-Indian actor in the damn movie, as the lead Indian role!

To be fair what I’d probably do is co-write it with an Indian with significant knowledge of the events and then leave it to an Indian director to make it with some Indian producers, insisting a significant amount of Indians get cast in Indian roles. That way at least when the movie came out, good or bad, you know you did your best to let the voices of those most affected speak out and be heard.

What Sia has done with her ignorance is spark also ignorant conversation from ignorant people and turned the autistic community against her movie into villains. I can tell you right now that Sia has more fans in the world than there are neurotypical advocates for autistic people.

People are talking on forums about how “wouldn’t autistic people find it hard to act?” well, I don’t know – Go ask…err… Autistic actor and Academy Award winner Anthony fucking Hopkins. I agree you shouldn’t judge the movie until you’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. It’s wank. It’s ignorant, dull, boring, hipster wank. It’s Oscar Gold – The parody from American Dad of so many acclaim-seeking spacksploitation films that likely began with Rain Man back in 1988.

I wanted to feel angry about this movie and I can’t because instead I just feel jaded. This is just another fucking artiste spunking their own overabundance of wealth on a movie they think has a message but is so void of anything meaningful it just becomes marketing.

This is marketing. For Sia and for Ziegler and, bravo, brava, I wish you the best. But I’m autistic, when I walk down the street with my headphones on people don’t give me watermelon or pictures of cats, they give me death-stares and, if they’re really fucking stupid, barge into me. Autistic people are more at risk of violent harm than they are of committing violence.

I have to live, penniless and without merit (according to the society around me), with my disability. I don’t have a reformed former-junkie sister to care for me. My sister has her own life and when my mother, with whom I live, passes away I’ll probably end up at the mercy of the state. A state that is doing its best to murder people like me, perceived as having little to no economic benefit. Whether it be do not resuscitate orders if we catch covid, or the general state of disability welfare infringing rights, and encouraging suicide, a UN report has said that here in the UK being disabled can get you killed by state negligence. I can’t find a link to it, but you can google it up.

This is the fucking reality. Never mind in the United States where, as far as I can tell, the welfare state is even harsher, the social-stigma even greater and the pressures on the disabled hamstrung by ridiculous healthcare policies.

Music is the equivalent of trying to make the chicken soup of movies, only you use sugar instead of salt and what you end up with is something saccharine, sickly and not right.

I wanted so hard to rant and rave about how soulless and empty this movie is and I can’t because it is so soulless and empty I just feel sorry for it.

If there is one thing I can be outraged by it’s that Sia and Ziegler, and whatever investors got involved, apparently spent a budget of $16m on this movie and that is a very, very expensive wank. Pornhub is free, guys.

Written by…directed by…music by…Sia is the Tommy Wiseau of her own little vanity project but if there’s one credit I can give to ‘The Room’ that you can’t give to ‘Music’ it is that it is worse than mediocre, and that makes it a spectacle.

You see you can be great, you can be a trainwreck, but you can never be dull. This movie is dull.

So I apologise, to any and all of your out there who thought my wrath would assassinate this film. I can’t do that.

HOLD YOUR HORSES! I said I can’t assassinate it. I’m going to kill it.

This is a fucking mercy killing. Sia, don’t quit ya day job.

If you ever want someone to write you something to string a few of your songs together to save you some wonga on the video expenses or whatever – give me a shout. I’m a very talented writer, I’m actually fucking autistic, so you can put that stamp of approval on it, and I will write you something that’s not, you know, a cliché.

Autistic actors, writers, directors, producers, musicians, we’re all out there. Most of us unemployed or underemployed. Did you know in the United Kingdom approximately 70% of all diagnosed autistic adults are unemployed? They could use a cut of that ‘Music’ budget money, they could use having their voices heard, they deserve respect, and a job.

Instead they get lambasted by Sia’s fans for not liking how they are portrayed in this movie. What if Ebo had been done by a white actor in blackface? What if this was the Shakespearean times and all the female characters were played by men dressed as ladies? There would be, quite rightly, an outcry.

But this is not sex and gender, and this is not race. This is disability, besides being fat one of the few areas of inequality people are still allowed to exploit, ride roughshod over and do as they please with.

While Sia gets free publicity via controversy, and money for a shit movie and the music she’ll release from it, disabled people get pittance in disability benefits or welfare, discrimination and used as tools and accessories in the games played by others.

Fuck off or give me a job.

Meanwhile listen to actually autistic British rapper Karolvs Rex talk about how hard it is to be autistic and make a living.

Missed my actual movie review of ‘Music’ – You can read it here. The tl;dr is it’s shit.

Silence is Golden: The Assassination of Sia’s “Music” – The Review

A revised poster for the Movie by me, consider fair use yadda, yadda – fucking sue me. (Credit: Pixabay, Hanway Films and Pineapple Lasagne)

It shouldn’t take a political violence mastermind to tell you that when you are setting up an assassination attempt you need a ‘patsy’. Someone to take the fall for you so that you can get away with the ‘crime’ you are about to commit. Unless you want to set yourself up as a political martyr but I’m too fucking street-smart to do that.

I gave Sia’s controversial movie ‘Music’ the benefit of the doubt and watched it. I had heard through the grapevine that it was controversial and that was about the gist of what I knew. I did not know specifics, I didn’t need to – I ain’t about that life. Chasing every celebrity and culture controversy around the corner desperate to snatch any little piece of it in my slathering jaws and feeling satisfied. I’m not about that and this isn’t a zombie movie.

It’s a shame, I’ve seen zombie movies made on one-sixteenth the budget of Music that have entertained me more.

No, if I am to do a hatchet job, and do a hatchet job I surely will, I will give credit where credit is due. People who criticise things they do not participate in are fucking stupid. If you hate on this movie without doing the decent and respectful thing first – stealing it on Kickass Torrent so you can actually watch it without giving a rich person more money they don’t need to spend on vanity projects – Then shame on you. In order to criticise we must know and understand.

If someone wants to rope me up on that stake and torch me they’re free to try, they’ll find the fires of righteousness won’t even warm my toes. I’m right. It is something I have always believed, and something that has never stood me wrong.

We exist in a ‘cancel culture’ that refuses to remove art from artist, message from medium, that which is sent from that which is delivered and seems to assume a homogeny, a sameness, to all ideas, systems and communications that is just biologically, psychologically, anthropologically and…well just logically incorrect.

No, if we’re going to give something as many zeroes as possible on Rotten Tomatoes I want it to be because it is a rotten tomato, and not because a certain proportion of the population got an iffy tomato whilst others experienced it differently.  

So here is my synopsis of the movie Music, there may be spoilers;

Music is the redemption story of an abhorrent piece of shit named ‘Zu’ (who by the end of the movie you still won’t really care for) and how she falls in love with a Ghanaian man named Ebo (who may as well be Jesus) who lives next door to her grandmother (the single most compelling character in the whole plot) who is dead within ten minutes. The death of the grandmother leads to the return of ‘Zu’. I keep putting ‘Zu’ in inverted commas because her real name is apparently Kazu, but she prefers zoo, probably because she is closer to an animal than a buzzing-hummy musical instrument – not that you can tell from her dialogue.

‘Zu’ is trying to make a clean living by dealing drugs that she buys from an incredibly creepy but goodhearted wholesaler. I don’t want to hark on about the lack of reality in this  movie, I’m just saying if I was her drug wholesaler I’d be a lot less “kiss, kiss,” and a lot more bang-bang and that’s an allusion to murder not sex, people. You don’t want flighty former-addicts as your distributors, that’s how you end up in prison.

While all of this is going on ‘Zu’ has this accessory that keeps hanging around pulling weird faces and making noises called ‘Music’ who is actually not an accessory, but a human being and apparently is supposedly the central thread of this whole plot, being the titular character. You might not have realised it at this point because whenever there is plot the only thing she has to do with it is that she is a burden keeping ‘Zu’ from doing what she wants.

This isn’t just the final form of the manic-pixie-dreamgirl, though – actually I suppose, in a way, it fucking is, isn’t it?

No, Music is autistic. Autism is classed as a ‘developmental disorder’ that can affect communication skills and behavioural management, as we occasionally see when they wish to use Music as a literal metaphor for the turmoil of the other characters, or simply as a MacGuffin to create a plot point. She hits herself in the head, she shouts and screams, she does weird shit, and she lives to a highly structured routine. All fairly standard for autistic people.

Today people are diagnosed as having ASD, or autistic spectrum disorder, rather than ‘high functioning’, ‘low functioning’ or ‘Aspergers’ that are names certain autistic conditions have been known by in the past. For anyone wondering I was diagnosed last year, at the age of 32, as being on the spectrum. People write textbooks about this sort of shit. so go read them for more information.

What Music actually does throughout the movie is essentially acts an amplifier for the emotional struggles of the non-autistic people around her, while she sometimes hits herself in the head and makes noises, or gives the writer-director-ego in chief an excuse for an overblown song and dance number.

When Music’s outbursts get really bad then she has someone forcibly lay on top of her and “crush her with love” as Ebo, really creepily, puts it. The use of this sort of restraint worries me somewhat. I mean, it’s one thing when it is your 100lb strung-out sister, but what about when people call the cops on autistic people because they’re scared? That’s the kind of restraint that gets people killed.

Sadly I doubt we’d see the same kind of outcry against police brutality for the murder of a disabled kid through restraint as we see for a person of colour, especially when that kind of restraint is advocated for in mainstream media like this movie.

I should specify, and this is all to the best of my knowledge from trawling IMDB et. al. the neurotypical characters are played by neurotypical actors, the characters of colour are played by actors of colour, Asian characters are played by Asians but the Autistic lead is played by Sia’s close, neurotypical colleague Maddie Ziegler.

Frankly, in another era it’s a guaranteed Oscar nomination, but this ain’t 1994 and Music ain’t Forrest fucking Gump. The times they are a-changin’.

I do want to give Maddie Ziegler due credit, this would, for any actor or actress, not be an easy role to play and she is, at best, trying. Given her age and inexperience that’s pretty remarkable. But her screen time is limited, half the time she’s just happily wiggling away in the background while the ‘real’ people talk about ‘real’ shit and that’s the problem.

Autistic people usually find that others find us uncomfortable to be around. We have our ways, our patterns, our routines, our idiosyncratic movements known as ‘stims’, we’re weird, ‘normal’ people are uncomfortable with that. We don’t get to see any solid scenes where she is the centre, where we see this conflict between a very ‘othering’ disability and real life. The movie does not develop through her, but around her. The title of this movie is ‘Music’ and it’s named after the background, not the foreground.

There is another compelling character, a mute, fat Asian guy who gets scant development but who dies when his abusive dad or stepdad or something knocks him over and he takes a bump on the bonce. Now here is where, as a writer, I started to see things falling out of tedious mediocrity and into the just plain bad territory.

I’m interested in that story. Who the fuck was that guy? Why was that guy there? What’s his family story? It’s implied he used to be some big ballroom dancer at some point and then he moves to America and the dude wants him to do boxing and be a tough guy instead…If – and this is advice to anyone interested in writing – if you find yourself writing a sub-plot, a secondary-arc, a paragraph even, about a different tale more interesting than the one you are telling – STOP! Write that instead. It’ll be better.

Twenty minutes into the movie I have written in my notes “Music is little more than a MacGuffin, an accessory, like a BLM armband on a racist.” I desperately wanted that to change considering this movie is a painfully time-dilated 1hr and 47m long. At around 1hr 20m I noted “Music is still just an accessory – one hour later.”

Some critics are arguing that the musical interludes are some the best parts. Every now and then Maddie Ziegler, ostensibly a dancer, gets to prance around like she’s trying to start a hipster version of Ninja Warrior on a set built of Technicolor marshmallows. At one point Ebo has a supposedly heart-wrenching musical scene that just reminded me of Wallace and Gromit and the Wrong Trousers. Personally, I didn’t get it. It all just looked like adverts for perfume or cars or something.

This was when I understood the point of this movie.

I assume making a pretentious music video is expensive. Sets, actors, dancers and all the ephemera that come with – it’s emptying the bank.

Don’t tell anyone, I dropped this very early on in my academic career because of how good I was at it, but I used to be really fucking good at business studies, especially marketing…Shhh! Keep it quiet. Next thing you know people’ll want my marketing ideas and I won’t have a soul anymore.

The point is if, say, music video costs are in the region of a couple of hundred thousand to a couple of million to make – well, what if all the filming took place in one block? You use a couple of hackneyed plots, short stories, to tie it all together, call it a movie and then you’ve got your music videos and a movie? What’s more, you then have celebrities in your music videos and forget a soundtrack to the movie, it’s your new album. It all ties together.

That’s what’s known as ‘added-value’. The same concept can be said of a pig farmer who also has an abattoir. You don’t have to pay someone else to slaughter your pigs and other people bring their pigs to you and pay to have them slaughtered. Then you take it a step further, well instead of sending these hogs off to be turned into ham, why not cure your own – added-value.

Sia’s got her music videos ready-made, with all the income and revenue the music side is going to bring, but she also has a movie. She raised the pigs, killed them and made the ham herself. It’s extra value. Maybe the movie side of things costs you a few million more to make, there’s always extra cost to added-value, but you project to get a little bit more back from the end product because it is a more ‘premium’ product. Whether a lump sum from a streaming service or box-office receipts, you’ll factor it in.

Never mind getting into tax breaks. “Oh shit, I’ve over-earned by $10m this year, better find a vanity project to sink it into so I can have something to show for my loss.”

This movie reeks of music video production added-value and pseudo-philanthropic marketing. The whole autism angle feels very forced and a bandwagon jump to earn some lib-points.

Being a white Anglo-Aussie, Sia couldn’t touch BLM, and frankly feminism, sex and gender – that’s a messy smoothie to swallow and it has been done better, is being done better and will be done better. It’s like autistic kids was this little fish that could be easily hooked. Who can argue bringing attention to the plight of the little autistic kids? Most of them can’t speak so there won’t be a massive outcry or backlash, right?

…Erm…Well if reception is to be believed, unfortunately the incredibly vocal adult autistic community respectfully disagrees. Hi!

But I have written a whole ‘nother article about all that. So forget the drama about autism; then the best thing you can say about Music is it is at least a movie.

Sia, at one point, gets an obnoxious self-insert and it stinks of hubris, she’s allegedly buying a shit-load of pain meds to send off to Haiti so they can have access to drugs. Because of course you couldn’t team up with Medicine Sans Frontiers for an initiative like that, instead you buy your drugs from illegal drug dealers. It makes no sense.

At least when Prince made Purple Rain he had other people write it, about him, for him. They didn’t call it Purple Rainman, stick an abled person in a disabled role to be his fucking sidekick and use that as the philanthropic excuse for his own vanity. Oh and, Purple Rain – 70% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Music – 17%…Sia, ya ain’t Prince. I’d say rest his soul but if there’s an afterlife he’s released 12 albums there already. Talented git doesn’t want to rest.

This movie is not about autism, it is not about awareness or promotion of compassion or understanding. It explains next to nothing besides one idealised scene where Ebo is talking about how Music sees the world differently. Again I’ll go into more details when I pull the trigger on this assassination but it comes across more as autistic fetishism. If Sia wrote this it is as if she wishes she were autistic.

If this movie is an advert for anything, and I feel it is an hour forty-seven minute long advert, it is an advert for Sia’s music and Ziegler’s dancing. Again, credit where credit is due: as far as a ‘modern’ dance approach goes, Ziegler does some exceptional work. Sia, well I can’t see what the fuss is about and what she does that Imogen Heap hasn’t already done better.

The lyrics of the songs are painfully shallow, don’t try and dive deeper or you’ll break your fucking neck. Forget autism, the film seems to want to be more about dealing with drug and alcohol abuse. I’d wager Sia has a greater knowledge of that problem given how this film comes across, with Music merely being the sobriety MacGuffin.

Also, personally and artistically I hate, with a passion, tales of the constantly fucking-up commoner written by long-term successful people, born into relatively well-off families and related to people in the business they got their success in. They always ring hollow. They’re always fake.  

I get it, Bojack slayed it, no successful person can write the story about successful people fucking up their life with drugs and alcohol and trying to fix it and fucking up again and trying to fix it because Bojack killed it. That genre is dead until we invent new drugs that make celebrities fuck up in new ways.

But successful people writing about the real-life miseries that affect people across the world, earning money from it. When there are writers out there trying to write similar stories, still trapped in those positions, unheard, silent in the cultural void created by people the likes of Sia who want their project to be the one that gets the attention and have the marketing team to do it – that hurts me. Literally.

You can tell from one of the opening scenes, where Music is walking down the street, head weaving away, grunting with delight, headphones on – and people are treating her nicely giving her pictures of dogs they cut out from magazines and free slices of watermelon.

You know then this has been written by somebody who doesn’t know fucking reality.

I’ll talk more about reality, at least my reality – there are millions of others out there – in the follow up. I’ll keep this about the movie.

Music is a boring film about a recovering alcoholic drug abuser forming a romance with an HIV positive Ghanaian-American, which happens to incidentally feature an autistic character played by a neurotypical dancer.  It’s dull, and barely worth watching.

There’s nothing you haven’t seen before besides the hipster marshmallow musical interludes. I’ll give some opinion on that, too. If you want the flashy, wanky art videos go watch some Lady Gaga, she did that more, bigger and better. If you want weird electro-pop, genre-melting music go listen to Imogen Heap, she did that better.

This whole thing is a big-bag of mediocrity and I don’t want the reason it gets trashed to become some identity culture-war bullshit between autistics and neurotypicals (although that’s what it has become and I will make my side very fucking clear). I want this movie to be judged for what it is. A shit movie.

There’s your patsy. Now I am going to set it up in the School Book Depository while I sit back in mission control and make sure the bullet is fired.

Read the personal assassination here.

Happy Birthday Darwin!

Portrait of Charles Darwin and may I just say…dat beard. I mean the beard on this fella makes a head of hair redundant, fortunately for him. (Credit: Wellcome Library, London)

I got so moody about dickheads being stupid about fatness that this nearly slipped me by!

There’s little I can say or do, historically or scientifically, to better other communicators on their thoughts on Darwin. On what he achieved, his pioneering spirit, his indomitable determination, his seeming respectability and his love of worms.

I’m fairly certain everyone from his Grandfather Erasmus Darwin through to our own darling of the Darwinian Sir David Attenborough have had their say and frankly I am neither a good enough biologist, nor a good enough historian of Darwin, to outdo them.

 So instead I will be personal and talk about who Darwin is to me.

You see my mum, bless her cotton socks, will admit to not being the brightest of people but she wasn’t stupid either, especially not where animals were concerned. Not because she studied her biology when in school, but because her parents had a habit for keeping all sorts of creatures around the house; her mother’s guard goose being a wonderful example of that. As such my mother loves a nature documentary and given that the television was my third parent I would often find myself watching them too.

I found them fascinating. The natural world around us, with its cycles, its movements and migrations equally met with its static, stoic and steadfast populations. The varieties, the colours of the birds, the shapes of the cats, the cries of the monkeys, the different ways animals use their bodies to spring, to jump, to leap, to grab, to swing, to run – it all caught my eye. It must have been like watching a stoner at a laser-light show watching me watching a nature documentary as a kid.

I fell in love, although it took me some years to realise it. I was in my early 20s before I was even going to study my undergraduate degree in Natural Science (with a focus on biology and ecology) and as I have mentioned in other articles it…didn’t work out.

My key reason for dropping out was effectively an autistic burnout but in the run up to it all sorts of events, all sorts of cues, starting making me less happy with it. I had a love/hate relationship with presentations but…I’m like a pair of comedy chattering teeth, wind me up and then try and stop me – I’ve never felt more like I’ve had a crowd in the palm of my hand than whilst giving my presentation on cheetah behaviour. I loved getting hands on with animals, creatures, bugs (even though I don’t like them) and had great fun with that. Going out into the field was an unmeasurable joy. Counter that with endless hours in the lab repeating the same task over, and over, and over, and over…repeat ad nauseum, or ethics lectures in which we discuss intellectual property rights of our discoveries, as if my first thought when discovering a vaccine for AIDS is how to stamp a TM on it so my university or lab can make money off of it rather than give it to humanity, as Volvo did with the patent to the inertia reel seatbelt. One of the things I realised at this time is I would never be a natural historian.

That’s what Darwin was, you see. We hold him up as an evolutionary biologist or a geneticist, a naturalist or an ecologist but he was sort of all of those things. He was a natural historian. It’s somewhat of an extinct academic species now. They weren’t about long nights in the lab, or the nitty-gritty of number-crunching. Although Darwin did his share of that with barnacles before ‘On the Origin…’ and earthworms afterwards! They were about the bigger picture, and travelling and adventuring to see that bigger picture.

Over the years different pieces of the evolutionary puzzle have been filled in, after Darwin, people trawled the records and eventually found the earlier work of monk Gregor Mendel, whose pea-plant cross-breeding experiment gave us an idea for a unit of inheritance, also proposed by Darwin, and the fundamentals of gene theory; Watson, Crick and Franklin gave us that unit of inheritance, the structure of the DNA molecule, Richard Dawkins would provide his selfish-gene theory, turning our eye away from species and populations and to individuals and genes within individuals. Along the road so many people have filled in puzzle pieces.

Photo 51 – X-ray crystallography photograph taken by Raymond Gosling, a graduate student of Rosalind Franklin, that shows the infamous helical structure of DNA (Credit: Raymond Gosling/King’s College London – Used without permission – Contact the site if you wish for it to be removed)

So why is the picture still so empty?

We still don’t know why sex. We still don’t know why death. We still don’t know why some species don’t have sex (rotifers). And we still don’t know why some species don’t die much. Why particular colours, temperatures, lands, terrains, pH of soils, why bees and flowers, what happens when no bees, how did it start, where does it end, what’s the fucking point?

It is my opinion that biology still needs natural historians like Charles Darwin. People to make long voyages with little else to do but observe, think and massively overindulge in Galapagos turtle meat. Maybe not that last one, but the other two. I think life is a ‘big picture’ kind of deal. I think the deeper we delve into the genome, the more reductionist we get with it, the more we see the same structures we saw 100, 1,000, 10,000 magnifications ago.

I made a post the other day about consciousness and the role that could play in the potential future of life, but much of our research about consciousness is coming from increased research in animals. I could frame this next thought as “we are finding out animals are smarter than we thought,” but I am choosing “We are finding out we are dumber than we wanted to believe.” Animals are smart, smarter than we’ve given them credit for and the language barriers, the communication barriers, have been the biggest hurdles to jump to realise that. As we get ethologists analysing animal behaviours through news lenses and with new techniques we are discovering cultures in species we never imagined could form them, skills with tools in animals we never could have dreamed would use them and intelligence, on levels we never expected, from species that are a total shock.

It is my personal belief that there are cetaceans (sea-mammals like whales and dolphins) as well as elephants, and cephalopods (sea-molluscs like octopus and squid) that possess if not consciousness as we know it, something very similar.

It’s in my image library and I like octopodes. I also want them know I am an ally when they outsmart us and take over the world (Credit: Martijn Klijnstra)

What would this mean for the big picture? I don’t know. I’ll be honest, I’m a mortal man and I’m not expecting to be around to see it. Life moves fast, but research moves slow and we will know things in 100 years’ time I’d shed tears over.

What I do know is Darwin’s theory still holds. Evolution by natural selection works, and sometimes species overreach. Sometimes they are too good at what they do, so good they put themselves in danger. Overhunting their preferred prey, over-exploiting their resources, there’s a decent amount of evidence that certain dinosaur habitats and species were experiencing trouble before the massive space-rock smash-banged into current day Mexico and began the K/T (or K-Pg) extinction event.

Humans should be smart enough to avoid their own catastrophe but they are also one of the few species smart enough to manufacturer it, or paradoxically so smart they’re smart enough to stupid themselves to ignore it. When Darwin’s crews sailed on the Beagle they also didn’t know the impacts they would have, so many crews have been ignorant and lacking in foresight and led to the near extinction of the Galapagos tortoise or actual extinctions like Stellar’s Sea Cow, the dodo and many of New Zealand’s flightless birds.

We know now, and, were he alive today I think Darwin would see the same misery people like myself and Sir David Attenborough do. A species capable of being their own devils, or the saviours of an entire planet – they merely have to make a choice between selfishness and something greater, a love, a compassion such that nature does not innately posses, but that we can be its agent of.

Nowadays a modern day Darwin needs to travel the world to see the devastation, see the problems, see the plastics and pollution – to predict a future where that is left unchecked and devise a model not only of how to slow it down but how to stop it, and repair the damage done. Yes, businesses, lab-scientists, reductionists, theorists, they are all important too. One person, though, of commanding stature, regardless of gender or background, burdening their own eyes, body and mind with the mighty forces of nature, going on a fearless pilgrimage of discovery, making records along the way, summing it up eloquently and giving us the big picture as they see it – A new Darwin – that may be enough for us to start to take it seriously.

Happy Birthday, mate. Thanks for calling my great-great-great-great-great…etc. granddad an ape, but you likely needn’t have gone back that far.

Fat Versus Fiction

A caesar salad, usually considered a healthy option, right? Well it’s lettuce (mostly water) covered in dressing high in fat, cheese, high in fat, and croutons (generally bread, carbohydrates, cooked in fat). So surely it’s bad for you, right? Of course not. Everything’s fine in moderation! (Credit: Geoff Peters)

Do you know what the real beauty myth is? That anyone or anything is innately ‘beautiful’.

Do you know what the real health myth is? That anyone individual is more healthy than another.

Never mind evolution by natural selection blindly stumbling into a future in which it doesn’t know what the conditions are, rendering any mate-selective traits redundant, ultimately what we are is a gang of co-operating, interacting genetic micro-machines (cells) inevitably staving off decay.

You are a pile of rot in waiting. Does Leonardo di Caprio look ‘decent’ to our eyes, yeah, of course. But he’s still slowly rotting like the rest of us. Cut him open, he bleeds red, if he shits too hard he can suffer an anal prolapse and, at his age, he is going to be experiencing prostate problems.

He’s slowly falling apart like the rest of us. Some of us, though, can afford to gild the rotting turd and make it look a little better. But are handsome, slim genes going to help humans survive in the future? Who knows? I’d argue that with increased pressure on population numbers, more mouths to feed and less arable land due to climate change the fatties win. Those who can eat more, store more, and thus have more to use in an emergency will outlive the others.

Some genes are better at living well, or dealing with living badly, than others. Some people do nothing but drink and smoke and make 90 years, some people get leukaemia by the age of 30 despite eating well, living healthily and exercising regularly. It’s a fucking crapshoot (well strictly speaking it’s ‘risk factor epidemiology’ – our best guess as to what percentage of X people will get Y condition), and it’s the hardest thing for control-freaks like humans to understand. We spend so much of our time denying death and when it does happen we look for excuses – “well he did eat a McDonalds a week, what did you expect?” – Or confusion – “I don’t understand, she didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, worked out…how is she gone so soon?” Welcome to real life, it’s a chaotic gamble and you never know, personally, what is good for you.

We have demonstrated that there are genetic pre-dispositions towards obesity. There are people for whom fundamentally a larger body is what their genome wants. When you ask those people to ‘get thin’ you are asking them to defy their genetics. Yes, it is as difficult as it sounds. Some of these people may have had those genes activated in life due to conditions – what is known as epigenetics – when real life experience changes the expression or ‘switching on or off’ of a gene. Starvation, stress, nutritional deficiency, even overworking (how many footballers from the 70s-90s ended up huge once they stopped playing?) can all change the expression of these genes. If you were starved as a child (as I was, thanks to a condition that led to my regurgitating my food from a newborn until a few weeks old) then your body is going to prime you for a world where food is scarce and you need to eat what you can and store it.

Therefore it stands to reason there are people who are genetically pre-disposed to be thinner, and incidentally, due to fashion, these are the people we have come to respect most, admire most and take the opinions of most. It’s bullshit, of course, ‘the halo effect’ – the psychological idea that because someone is good at one thing then they must be good or well informed, at another – in full effect. It’s bollocks, someone like, say, Anthea Turner, a former television presenter, who has about as much knowledge of obesity science, the metabolic pathways, nutrition and the chaotic gamble that is genetics and epigenetics as Sue from down the road. She’s got an opinion, sure. But you know what they say about opinions – She’s an arsehole for having hers…Or something like that isn’t it? When she has me agreeing with Piers fucking Morgan she must have fucked up good!

For the first years of your life you don’t get to choose a good diet if you’re not given one. You don’t get to choose to learn how to cook if you’re not taught and you don’t get to choose to be fat or thin.

Shaming of childhood obesity is causing significant damage, through long term bullying, alienation and trauma, known to cause increases of life-long mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, known to cause early death and increased risk of things such as heart disease, stroke and cancer, to a group of people who, in the most part, are causing little burden on the NHS, and basically aren’t to blame for their problem. You might think that shame is a good social way to ‘cure’ the ‘problem’ but all you’re doing is giving kids eating disorders, stress, anxiety conditions and depression that will ultimately end up costing more. YOU’RE A FUCKING STUPID DICK! BECOME A CURIOUS IDIOT™ INSTEAD!

What is fat? Fat is one of the fundamental nutrients utilised by the human body in its metabolic processes. For the most part a human consuming zero fat is a very, very unhealthy human as fats play an important role in making and maintaining lipid membranes (you’ve not been a bio student without the words ‘phospholipid bilayer tatooed in your synapses) in cell walls, as well as their conversion into glycerols (very useful for reacting with excess glucose to dispose of it) and fatty acids, very useful as an energy source when carbohydrates are unavailable. This is why an average person will have a body fat percentage of somewhere around 20-25%. Because fat is not bad.

Fats that are not used immediately for energy production (which in people who consume carbohydrates will be a lot of them) will have that fat stored in their body in what’s called ‘adipose tissue’. This is essentially layers of fatty tissue, what we think of when think ‘fat’. Think about a nice piece of belly pork. That unctuous white structure between the layers is adipose tissue holding fat cells in storage. It also plays a good role in protecting vital organs. Thus adipose tissue occurs both subcutaneously (under the skin) and viscerally (around the organs).

Adipose tissue, where lipids (or fats) are stored. One is a diagram on the left, on the right is a microscope slide. For all the negative press this tissue gets, without it you’d be at significantly greater risk of bone and organ damage from relatively minor accidents. (Credit: Openstax Anatomy and Physiology)

So a very skinny person could, say, have an unhealthy amount of visceral fat around their liver, this could be caused by alcohol, or it could be non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), either way it is causing them problems. Just because someone appears thin, doesn’t mean they don’t have problems with fat. But fat can serve a protective role, too. Both subcutaneous and visceral fat tissue has been associated with protecting certain areas of the body, particularly organs and bones, from injury.

Certain people, indeed an increasing number of people in the West, have difficulty regulating the amount of fat in their diet – for various reasons most of which are entirely without moral implication. And that is entirely my point.

Research indicates that persistent, long-term obesity is a massive health concern. Right?

But does it?

Because when huskier adults of a relatively active lifestyle are studied we find odder results. Indeed we get what’s known as the ‘fat but fit paradox’.

What’s more, recently details have come to light that a lot of the research suggesting consumption of saturated fat was associated with an increased risk of heart disease. It was sponsored by ‘big sugar’ which sounds like a pimp’s name but it was essentially a consortia of people working on behalf of the sugar industry. Why? Because in the 1950s sucrose consumption had been demonstrated to have significant effects on heart health. What was the end result? Sugar was exonerated leading to over consumption of carbohydrates leading to a significant increase in people with Type-2 diabetes…Blamed on their being ‘fat’, of course, for since those years ‘fat’ had become the cursed word, and not the fact that they have been conditioned to overconsume carbohydrates for fear of heart disease from fats, even though sugars are just as much a culprit.

Research also indicates that for people of a certain age being slightly overweight can be a positive thing, have no effect at all, or be a negative thing – It is almost as if these people are all genetically unique and thus their bodies respond to their comparative weights differently.  As if the mainstream narrative that fat equals unhealthy and bad is…you know…oversimplified, ignorant and FUCKING WRONG!

We need to make people stop and think a minute about fat-shaming. From Prader-Willi syndrome to just having no other comfort than food, psychological issues, physiological differences, genetic predispositions – over the years we have learned that all of these things have a hand in determining whether someone is ‘fat’ or ‘normal’ – because let’s be honest, being skinny is supposed to be normal.

Larger people are often discriminated against by the medical profession. I am linking to a Guardian story about the initiative and narrative the government has taken but if you google ‘Fat shaming NHS complaints’ you will find so many Freedom of Information requests detailing individual examples. Many are the stories of people with genuine medical problems going to their GP, having their complaint ignored and put down to their weight. The next thing you know they’re in A&E needing a new ACL, or worse, the problem that a GP dismissed as being due to their weight is cancer, or something else major.

We see figures on the news of how much money obesity related conditions are costing the NHS – a quick google will give you some outrageous and out-of-context figures (£4.2bn per year and rising – immediately comes up on google when looking) – but not how much is spent fixing sports injuries (only a few cursory figures come up – buried in the articles and not at the top of the page like the obesity one – approximately £1.7bn by one estimate) However that study reveals an approximate cost per injury, of primary care, as around £5,000 per injury, and another study suggests there are around 1,000,000-1,500,000 admission to NHS hospitals (not including GP visits etc.) for sports related injuries per year. That would put an estimated cost, for sports injuries, at somewhere in the region of £5-7.5bn per annum.  I can also find a figure from a governmental source that the cost to the government of work-related injuries is around £3.5bn.

Where are all the massive campaigns against jogging when you’re too old, too fat, too likely to get injured? Where is the lambasting of health nuts, where is the denigration of Joe Wicks for encouraging injury and cost to the NHS? It’s not there because it hasn’t been marketed to be there.

The biggest killer in the fucking world is ignorance, because we ignore bigger problems to focus on the marketable ones. Everyone can see fat, but few people see your ACL tear. Everyone can watch me jiggle, but nobody can see work-related stress slowly killing your heart. Fat is visible, fat is marketable. Work related stress and that twinge in your knee that’ll grow into a bigger problem in time – not so much.

And let me get to some real fucking nuts and bolts here. If obese people are so busy having heart attacks, diabetes and stroke between the ages of 45-60, them motherfuckers is dead. No more cost to the NHS.

But those people who keep living, 65-75-85-on into their 90s? They require health care, and social care, for all those extra years, consistently. I don’t have the stats but I’d wager they are a longer-term, more costly burden on the NHS and to the government than obese people.

It’s a brass tacks way to look at it but I’m fairly certain if we really crunched the numbers, people who live longer end up costing the NHS more than people who die younger.

The point is shut the fuck up about being fat. I’ve had skinny motherfuckers on the treadmill next to me in the gym wondering how this lumpy-lava-lamp is doing more miles, quicker, than them. Then he jumps off the treadmill and goes and does weights while they go for a shower and a sauna, and as they towel their heads as they’re leaving they see that same guy on the rowing machine, doing 10k. Then he does some more weights. Then he does 5-10k on the exercise bike to cool down. I’ve had people call me a ‘beast’ in a gym setting because a man like me, my shape, my size, should not be able to go as I do and yet I fucking go.

Maybe we should ask whether a society that shames larger people is not the problem? I was very hesitant to join a gym. I worried about being judged, about being looked at, at people watching me jiggle as I jogged. I worried what the skinny people would say to me and in the end what they said was “Fuck me, I didn’t expect you to go like that!”. That wasn’t reassuring, for as much as a compliment as it was. It is a testament to a long term marketing campaign that says fat people can’t be fit – a demonstrably proven lie. I can prove it, because I exist and I’ll beat most of you skinny fuckers for time on a hill walk.

Not only that but gym memberships cost money and not everyone has that disposable income. Never mind the money needed for a gym bag, some good trainers (and you need good trainers or else enjoy your knackered ankles and the extra cost to the NHS from those) and a kit (or two if you plan on going regularly). You also need that magical thing so many people from the ground up to the middle, from the lowest class to the upper middle class – they are all paupers when it comes to – time.

Yeah, you can go out in the streets and jog but I felt more comfortable, as a fat dude, doing it in a gym where the people looking at me were there for the same reason – to work out – than on the streets where people who couldn’t run a mile without dying but with skinny hips will look at you with disgust. This is not an opinion that is innate, the human is not innately disgusted by a larger body – many people find it attractive. So this opinion is learned. It is taught. It is marketed.

Smoking was a relatively easy problem to solve. It costs money, has relatively short-lived benefits with long-term consequences and complications and is, ultimately, entirely unnecessary to live. What’s more we now have vaping, which is like smoking only it causes significantly fewer, albeit not no, harms.

When it comes to obesity, when it comes to eating, you need food to live.

What food you eat? Well that comes down to time, effort, energy and education. Not only are our schools a total clusterfuck of failure when it comes to teaching kids how to cook and eat healthy meals, but our lives are dominated by advertising from unhealthy fast-food brands and sugar-laden cereal companies. The big food brands still hold a lot of sway, and deserve to carry the weight of responsibility for the health of this nation. They will tell you how they spend X amount of money on healthy activity programmes or Y amount of money on this or that grass roots sport but that’s just tax-avoidance and philanthropic marketing. They still want to sell Frosties, Mars Bars and Big Macs.

The kind of marketing I am talking about. Associations of food with friends and lovers, and buy-one-get-one-free deals make food like this – that is okay as a once-in-a-while indulgence – a regular purchase for someone struggling to find time to cook. What’s more, these images, and others like it, will be everywhere, priming your brain to want this kind of food. It’s psychologically manipulative and it knows it and it doesn’t care it just wants your money. (Credit: Jaggery)

If a disproportionate amount of people in our population are getting fat we need to stop blaming the people and start looking at the multiple facets.

  1. Some people are just genetically predisposed to be larger. They can still be healthy if they use exercise to maintain cardiovascular health.
  2. Some people have complex psychological issues about foods. These can include those who refuse to eat (anorexia) those who eat but tend to vomit up their food to prevent digestion (bulimia) and those who eat for comfort (doesn’t have a cool sounding sciency name, it’s just called ‘emotional eating’ – branding 101 it already discredits it).
  3. Being skinny doesn’t always mean being healthy.
  4. Nutritional education is shit and whilst it remains shit people will eat like shit.
  5. Companies that make billions of pounds worldwide are heavily invested in making you fat, keeping you fat and ensuring you’re a fat fucking slave to their products.
  6. They, the medical profession, the various pundits and idiots worldwide will still convince you this is an individual, moral issue.

“But my GP says…” I once had a GP prescribe yoghurt as a sleeping aid. Sometimes GPs don’t know a damn thing, are just as ignorant and prone to trends, fashions and whatever is marketed as the rest of us and should wise up. Sometimes their very status as GPs gives them an aloofness to the rest of us unhealthy proles who should live better. They’re not better than you – remember we’re all Curious Idiots™.

GPs are ‘general practitioners’ and they’re not paid to keep up with the latest research on the genomics of obesity, the metabolic benefits of fats versus carbohydrates in your diet or quite how their bullshit advice is affecting the mental health of their patients – although that last one should be of big fucking concern to them. Some GPs are, actually, very good, very learned, very informed, very attentive and will give you an excellent service. Some are just pompous dicks. People are people, and people are varied.

Since advertising was invented big brands selling garbage have dominated the public consciousness, from Paupers to Kings, from dipshits to doctors. I could say “I’m loving it…” and so many people would know what I mean, but ‘The Man from Del Monte’ disappeared years ago. I don’t see avocados being advertised on television. I don’t see ‘big celery’ showing you how to use that wonderful, umami boosting vegetable to add extra aromatic flavour to many dishes. I see virtually racist ads from Ragu sauces telling people to pour sugar-laden pre-made, preservative filled sauce onto their concentrated, processed carbohydrates, but very little advertising on how you can literally make the same with a tin of chopped tomatoes, a bit of tomato puree, some garlic and a few basil leaves – maybe a tiny amount of sugar to taste, as it acts as an acidity regulator – but I like my tomato sauce to be sharp.

I don’t see the likes of Anthea Turner, the fat-shaming, ableist who is the catalyst for this article, asking her agents, asking the advertising workers she knows and works with, why they, their agencies and their businesses, sell their souls to kill other people’s health. I’m sure, one day, to write an article about how the single greatest effect of psychological understanding has been to manipulate us into wanting to buy things we don’t need and feel insecure. I fucking hate that the study of psychology has, for nearly the past century, been used as a tool against, rather than for humanity and its advancement.

I also don’t see Anthea Turner checking the figures, noticing age is the significantly biggest factor in covid deaths. Then what would her opinion be, we should just euthanize everyone at 70, for their own good?

Anthea Turner is a fucking moron. She needs to realise it, join the Curious Idiots™ club and accept that she doesn’t know anything about the world, like I don’t, like you don’t, like none of us do.

To me it makes perfect sense that we’re all anxiety ridden, over-eating wrecks. Our brains are being fucked with on a daily basis, without our permission, to want, to need, to desire. Adverts appeal to our baser needs, suggest we’re not good parents if we don’t give our kids X, suggest we’ll always be single if we don’t do Y and suggest we really, really need to try that new unctuous burger.

Should McDonalds be releasing a 700+ calorie burger? Why not, it’s their business. Should they market it as the must-eat thing, at a time when we’re all more sedentary than ever from covid…I’d advise not. But I don’t get to make those decisions and the palms of our politicians are slathered in so much grease from multi-billion pound companies that it’s likely an individual, with an individual vote, will find it hard to stop this bullshit happening.

To me, advertising shitty food is as dangerous as advertising cigarettes and should be banned. I speak as a food lover. I don’t want shit food not to exist, I just don’t want to be manipulated into buying it.

These companies sponsor our biggest events, including, ironically, sports events. These brands are ingrained in popular culture. They are part of the fabric of our lives and our culture and it is that culture that needs to fucking changes.

Don’t hate the player, hate the game. In fact, don’t just hate the game, flip the fucking table, throw the board on the floor, stomp on the fucking pieces and make your own rules.

Consciousness: The Saviour?

The human brain, probably a more alien ‘thing’ to us than Martian geology or the depths of our oceans. Could the salvation of the universe lie within? …Probably not…Well, maybe. (Credit: Pixabay)

NOTE: What follows is unqualified opinion and not scientific fact, the thoughts and ideas expressed here are not necessarily represented by the scientific consensus – in fact it’s mostly crackpot nonsense.

Also Note: You should probably read the other article Nature: The Abusive Mother before reading this.

My last post was probably a bit of a downer to a lot of people. People like to think of nature as pretty and delightful, of life as fun and happy not an inevitable meander to death – but truth fucking hurts and that’s the truth. Sorry.

I also explained that nature has no innate morality and that to some extent all creatures are selfish. Let me give an active demonstration of that by not letting someone else be my counter-argument and by doing it myself! Fuck you, people who don’t like what I had to say!

You see I described life as having a ‘will’ and it was for want of a better term because will implies an intent, a deliberateness that life just doesn’t have. Life is blind, aimless and ever blundering. Sometimes it gets away with its blunders, look at the platypus, sometimes it doesn’t, just ask the dinosaurs – and to make matters worse conditions are always changing.

It takes blind evolution millions of years to adapt to conditions that can change in the melting of a pole, the collapse of a cliff, the evaporation of a lake or, cosmos-forbid, the smash of a meteorite.

I made a point of saying nature has no morality, not that it was immoral. It doesn’t know the darkness it brings, the harm it causes, the miseries it perpetuates.

Now if only there were a system or process, evolved by accident, that gave some aspect of nature and life the ability to reflect upon itself, subjectively, to consider its direction and to have the potency to potentially change it should it be going the wrong way.

Well…There might be.

I know, I know – a lot of you are going to want to throw your hands up like eager schoolchildren and say “SIR! SIR! IS IT PEOPLE? SIR, IS THE ANSWER PEOPLE!?”

No. You’re close but no. I said it was a system or process, not a species. Sadly people are too biological, too selfish-gene driven and too damn stupid to save the day. To anyone offended by that I am sorry you are one of the lucky ones ignorant enough not to recognise this as true.

It is, though, a skill people possess. Consciousness.

What is consciousness, you might ask? Well the answer is we don’t really know. We know it is because it says it is and is very good at insisting it is. Science is pushing us further and further down the road of understanding it. What we could best say is that it is an ability to consider, irrelevant of the current, immediate stimuli, the past, present and future not just of oneself but of other things.

The common octopus remarkable for its own intelligence, especially given that it’s basically an overgrown sea slug. Outside of mammals, these guys probably represent the best shot conscious intelligence has of having any agency. (Credit: Martijn Klijnstra)

Put in simple terms it’s being able to think. The same thing that causes untold human misery could also, one day, be its salvation.

Consider for a second glaciation – ice-ages – now a species of wolf in a temperate climate with a mid-length coat, adapted for temperatures between, say -5 and 35°C is going to struggle to adapt to a tundra where -5 is considered warm and clement weather. Maybe around that time a few longer, shaggier coated individuals start appearing, and a few of them survive and eventually they thrive in this new, colder climate. That is a process that takes tens of thousands into the millions of years to show success.

Now consider a human. What would we do? We’re cold, the climate is getting colder. Hey, there’s a shaggy coated wolf, let’s skin the bastard and wear his coat, then we’ll be warm.

What the human has done, that we take so for granted, is consider the immediate conditions (fucking cold), consider a future projection if nothing changes (I’ll fucking freeze to death), assess the environment (there’s a wolf), solve a puzzle (I am cold, that wolf has a warm coat, that warm coat make help solve my cold) and then put into action the solution (skin the bastard and wear its skin).

To me what a combination of intelligence and consciousness represents is the ability to adapt, on the fly, to ever-changing conditions, freeing up the genome to evolve for greater longer-term success, now un-burdened by the shorter term changes. Considering that genome is now about 4 billion years old, and those shorter-term changes can be in the millions of years you have to imagine a combination of consciousness and intelligence is frightening.

What’s most frightening, about it, however, is it allows nature, life itself, to observe itself, externally, consider its direction and ponder whether it is right or not.

Again, humans are natural, consciousness is natural, intelligence is natural, these are all natural systems – but these are now natural systems that can combine to change the very direction of nature itself.

And we have!

Those uninteresting monocultured species I talked about in the Nature article, the jungle fowl (chicken), the aurochs (cow) and the boar (pig) that we most commonly consume are now so altered from their original forms, from years of human interference, selecting for certain things and, without even understanding biology or genetics, finding a way of making that pass from one generation to the next.

We have cereal crops that are staples around the world but we did the same with them.

We build dams and create lakes, we sink ships to build reefs, we deforest and reforest, sometimes with a view to exploiting for our own gain but sometimes with a view to managing the environment for its own sake, rather than ours.

I don’t think humans are clever enough to save themselves. I think we’re doomed. What I want is for us to at least leave conscious intelligence behind, as our legacy, so that life, nature, even the universe itself can look upon itself with borrowed eyes and learn more.

I told you everyone has their crackpot theory. I’ve pretty much just dropped mine but the fact is if nature is the beautiful-ugly reality then conscious intelligence is the closest thing it has to a divine spirit, to a ‘soul’. It can be nature’s agent of morality, but as human behaviour demonstrates it definitely has a lot of growing up to do before it is wise enough.

But there’s hope yet.

Nature: The Abusive Mother

Our Earth, on a cosmic scale little more than dust, but to us something so large as to be profoundly unknowable. As far as we are aware all life, everything we have every come from, known, cared about, or developed, happened here. (Credit:
Pablo Carlos Budassi
)

NOTE: What follows is unqualified opinion and not scientific fact, the thoughts and ideas expressed here are not necessarily represented by the scientific consensus – though some probably should be.

I am a conservationist, a naturalist, to an extent – though never formalised, ever internalised – a biologist. Yet I am a meat-eater, indeed a ravenous one at that and I have been quite clear that I don’t eat anything I wouldn’t kill. Knowing the devastation wrought by intensive livestock farming how do I reconcile this? I shall explain.

I dislike the kind of meandering bores who perceive in the grass beneath their feet as the harmless, indeed nurturing, arms of a mother-goddess.

If nature is your mum, she’s fucking abusive.

I don’t dislike people with a healthy love of nature. I love it too.

I love that it’s metal as fuck. It’s sick, it’s brutal and it doesn’t give a shit about you.

I don’t dislike people who believe that there can be connection between person and animal, person and plant, person and…I don’t know…tube worm…Whatever, I’ve no problem with that. I’ve got a problem with people who do not realise those connections are generally based on very real, very pragmatic life necessities. If that plant, that animal or that tube worm could devour you and everything you loved to gain genetic advantage for itself it would.

Think about the person you love most in the world – it could be a parent, a partner or a child – There is not a single living organism on this planet that could not one day evolve to consume that thing you love for its own advantage. Much as we have. Humans like to consider ourselves so ‘apart’ from a nature that we don’t recognise we represent its hypocrisy, its brutality and its self-ignorance perfectly.

That’s why I eat meat. Do I like modern intensive farming practices, no, they’re ridiculously harmful. Do I enjoy consuming the same few cuts of the same monocultured animals, no it’s boring. I want to hunt my own meat, if I’m perfectly honest, and wish we didn’t have ridiculous land laws in this country that prevent me from doing so but for a few accepted species.

Do I find it offensive when someone wants to have a go at some hill-farmer in China for eating a bat and potentially spreading Covid to humans? Fuck yeah I do, because that bat might be tasty, that person might have piss all else to eat and that virus doesn’t give a fuck if you’re a bat or a human it only wants to invade your cells and hijack your genome. Why don’t we have a go at the virus? Or the bat?

I’ve recently been reading Tess of the d’Urbervilles at the request of a friend. I put out a call asking what We Lack Discipline should cover next and she was the only person who cared enough to answer. It’s not my style, I am not well acquainted with Thomas Hardy’s work but I’m not not-enjoying it.

What it presents is representations of pastoralism, that is to say a belief that the rural, farm life is the good life – it has a long and storied history I’ll cover another day – and romanticism. Now, I know ‘romance’ means a different thing now to what it did in the 18th century but needless to say back then it was more about a counter-culture to rationalism and the enlightenment. It was more bonfires and intuition than Bunsen-burners and evidential discovery.

I can’t say that I don’t have a healthy respect for both movements, just as I can’t say I don’t have a healthy scepticism. The farmer’s no use to his flock if he’s dead of heart disease at 50 just as modern medicine has demonstrated the positive effects of grass, flowers, trees and nature on the human organism. There’s a balance.

But one thing Hardy does have, and many Romantics got correct in my opinion, is a healthy dose of brutality, and the effect of that brutality on everything.

This world is the beauty that it is because it is built upon a foundation of use, abuse and decay – Literally. The Earth was barren rock until life started climbing to photosynthesise upon those rocks, the steady death and decay of those organisms formed a substrate we call ‘soil’ that became the foundation of life to come, plants, which would be eaten by other plants, animals, things etc. etc. The whole system forms a chain that all leads back to the brutal reality of use, abuse and decay.

Jubilee Woods in Leicestershire – Looking at the sunbeams dancing off the pretty bluebells it is easy to see why the human eye can be so dazzled by the beauty as to ignore the rotting wood, the mulch beneath the flowers and probably the man decaying corpses of woodland creatures nearby – (Credit: Adele Beeby)

Much as I cannot stand those dove-struck Christians who see nothing but Christ’s love in every butterfly and God’s mercy in every leaf, I cannot stand those fake, neo-pagans who believe the Earth is our cradle, we her swaddled child and she will provide. You want evidence that real pagans don’t think like that read fucking Homer – there are whole characters who are existentialist rants about how we’re toys to the gods and nature.

So right now I want to present to everyone my amazing findings, after years of painstaking research on the fundamental, innate morality of nature.

There is none.

No wrong, no right.

You can ask any biologist, palaeontologist, virologist, any of the life-science –ologies and unless they’ve got their own agenda they will all tell you the same thing. There’s no morality innate in life.

What follows is an approximate, incredibly shortened, and very fictionalised account of how ‘life’ came to be;

In some festering puddle of chemicals a few acids and ribonucleotides found a means of coming together. They came together in such a way that they had, for want of a better term, a ‘will’ and that will was to gather the necessary ingredients around them to make more of themselves.

They did, and in so doing sometimes they copied themselves a little differently and, for some reason, some of these different copies were better at copying than the previous copies.

Eventually some of these copies that were better at copying discovered the easiest way to gather the ingredients to make more copies was to take apart the already made copies less good at copying.

The ones less good at copying had to either quickly change to be better at copying, or be eaten and turned into better copiers.

Those ribonucleic acids (RNAs) became Deoxyribonucleic acids (DNAs) those DNAs built entire machines, bodies, around them to protect them while they did all their copying, to help them copy better and to help them better adapt to the pressure of the other copiers around them.  

This is the oldest known example of chemical warfare, it started somewhere between 3.8 and 4 billion years ago and you are merely one of billions upon billions upon trillions of the weapons used in that war. We are developed purely by accident, the only known ‘will’ being to reproduce. If there is an ‘end’ or a ‘purpose’ nobody knows it. I have my theories but every crackpot has their theories. The fact is there is nothing in there, at any point, that innately planted morality.

That’s not some pseudo-philosophical excuse for you to go off doing whatever the fuck you want. Actions have consequences and groups develop morals, cultures develop morals, populations, ecosystems these can all develop ‘morals’. These are systems and rules of living, generally if not in mutual co-operation then at least in a time-share agreement or with begrudging consent. This is why we don’t just go around robbing each other, or stealing each other’s houses. Nature may have no rules or morals, but human societies and cultures do – sure they change, sometimes they’re wrong, but you break them at your own risk.

In a way these groups are liberating themselves from the unashamed cruelty of nature. Because nature, they know deep down? She’s not kind.

In my opinion if you cannot regard nature in her true majesty, as that brutal, abusive mother, you have hardly regarded her at all. The evidence is everywhere. Life subsists on life, indeed cannot subsist without it. Every moment another cruelty, rightly or wrongly, takes place so that one species may eat – though the other dies.

It is easy, behind closed curtains, weather-treated brick walls and pesticides to believe in the beauty of ‘mother nature’. It is easy when you spend most of your time working a 9-5 but then go off to a field for a week of the year to imbibe substances, dance primitively and pretend you’re ‘at-one’ to look upon that primitivism as more beautiful than the artifice we have built around us.

It is easy, through our eyes, to see the harm humanity causes, the resources we exploit and to criticise ourselves, but are we not natural? Are we not merely doing as we do? And when all’s said and done it will take a massive man-made cataclysm to stop life itself, to stop the Earthly genome from spreading anew. When we talk of climate emergencies we perceive the direct threat to ourselves as being just as direct a threat to ‘mother nature’ but it isn’t. She doesn’t care. There are already plastic-eating bacteria, She will persist. It will be us who are gone, our artifice destroyed and reclaimed by what is, by what we choose to keep out, because it is such a threat to us.

What’s beyond that artifice? It’s not just a beautiful meadow filled with pretty flowers. It is death, disease, decay, desire, robbery, cuckoldery, violence, rape and plunder.

If nature were moral she would suggest it is criminal that something as ugly as her should be so beautiful.