You are angry about the wrong things.

A few years back I was working with a guy who saw a poster for a charity raising money to fight poverty in Africa. It showed a malnourished, wide-eyed child in tattered clothes standing barefoot on barren land, desperately looking up at us for our help.

The advert explained the child’s unceasing hunger, and asked for a donation. With your money, we can feed this child. My colleague read the advert’s long prose, which detailed the agonising impoverishment that real human beings are suffering right now. He looked up from the advert, and said “God, that’s awful. I mean, it’s just... it’s just PACKED full of grammar mistakes.”

===========================

This is a blog post that people can link to when 140 characters isn’t quite enough to explain to someone that they’re getting angry at the wrong thing, and that their lack of perspective, their jaw-dropping failure to grasp the point, might actually mean that they’re not a very nice person.

Yes, that advert was full of grammar mistakes. Factually speaking, he wasn’t wrong. But if you can read some text about people in pain, if you can hear that there are other human beings in the world whose suffering is completely unnecessary and avoidable, if you learn that you could potentially help to end that pain - and yet the thing that makes you furious isn’t the sheer injustice of it all, or the fact that their government isn’t held to account, or that the world isn’t acting together to fix this entirely solvable problem - but instead, the thing that makes you angry is some grammar problems - then there’s a fairly big chance that you’re a dickhead.

Certain wrongs take priority over other wrongs. And yes, it’s possible to be angry about both things. But the whole ‘human suffering’ thing is so vastly more important than getting the grammar correct in an ad, that I’m not even sure you could express the importance in numbers. Fighting poverty is infinity-plus-one-ly more important than getting the grammar right. Unless the charity has phoned you up and said “Can you please proof-read this copy for us,” you can probably just chill out about the bad grammar, and not even mention it. Save your fury for the ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS WHO ARE SUFFERING IN REAL LIFE.

You’d think this was obvious, really. And yet so many people fail to see this. Mainly men. “Aah, but not ALL men”, you say, aghast that those pesky feminists just don’t understand that we can’t have equality until they stop complaining about men. “As if all men were the same. Some of us are nice!”

If you hear a woman talking about harassment and sexual violence, and complaining about the actions of men, and your first instinct is to correct them on their use of ‘men’, then you’ve missed the point so hard that you’re in Japan and the point is in Spain.

Because yes, technically you may be correct. Maybe it’s true that not literally every man acts in a certain way. But that isn’t the thing that should be making you mad. The thing that should be making you mad is that every woman HAS experienced harassment. One in four women HAVE experienced sexual violence. That stuff is real, and it’s happening every day. If that isn’t the thing here that’s boiling your piss, you need to check yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I see what you’re doing. You want to set yourself apart from the other men. You’re not a harasser. You don’t treat women badly. You’re a nice guy. Why would you want to be lumped in with those other douchebags? Well, if you don’t want to be one of them, don’t spend your time correcting women on the internet for not complaining in the right way. Spend your time fighting the misogyny that’s woven into the fabric of society. Spend your time calling out your male friends who act like pricks. Call out your friends who make rape jokes, lobby your government when they make cuts to women’s services, write to companies who use misogyny in adverts to tell them you’ll be boycotting them.

And more than anything else, get your priorities right. Some fights can wait. Yes yes, not all men. But instead of pointing that out, instead of spending your time making sure that everyone understands that you’re not one of the bad guys, maybe it’s more important to join the fight to change it from ‘not all men’ to ‘no men at all’. And if your immediate response to that sentence is “well, you’ll never stop all men from...” - then go back to the start of this blog post and read it again, because you still have a lesson to learn.

And it’s a lesson that you can apply in plenty of other situations, thanks to the world’s generous propensity to injustice. Sure, not all cops are corrupt. But so many are that I wouldn’t begrudge someone saying that cops are corrupt. Sure, not all bankers and politicians are greedy. But enough of them seem to be that it’s hardly a controversial shorthand. When a large number of people within a privileged and powerful group are abusing that power, don’t get worked up by the shorthand. Get passionate about fixing the corruption.

Are you pissed at the fact that we lose £1bn to benefit cheats? Well, maybe it’s worth being 70 times more angry about the fact that we lose £70bn a year to tax avoidance.

Are you livid that David Cameron wouldn’t wear a t-shirt saying This Is What A Feminist Looks Like? Well, that sure is serious. But perhaps not as serious as the fact that his party actively promotes policies that harm women, and that the UK just dropped out of the top 20 countries for gender equality.

Are you furious at the fact that Utopia was cancelled? ...yeah okay, I’ll give you that one.

Chances are you’re reading this because you are a good person. But good people don’t get judged on what they say. They get judged on their actions. So next time, instead of sweating the small stuff, maybe just take a step back. Listen, understand - and then, join the fight.

And if you see a grammar mistake in this blog... definitely let me know about it. I’m a real stickler for that kind of thing.
Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong are currently clashing with anti-democracy activists from Beijing. I always find it odd how someone could be anti-democracy. “Don’t be stupid, of COURSE I don’t want the right to be able to decide how my country is run. That’s a terrible system. I can’t be trusted. Give me the keys and I’ll just give everyone the day off and make all the beer free. No democracy for me, thanks. Instead, I want my mate Steve to run the country. And more than that, I want him to whip me and disappear all my family if I disobey him. It’s the only way to make China great again.”

I think similar thoughts when I hear about humans saying that human rights have ruined our country. How many Daily Mail readers do you suppose have actually read the European Convention on Human Rights? I wouldn’t blame anyone for choosing a Buzzfeed article over it - it’s as dry as sucking a Martini out of sandpaper. But you’d think that if you were passionately opposed to a law, you might at least give it a glance.

Because in truth, it’s difficult to know exactly what one would object to in it. The ECHR covers things like freedom from torture, the freedom to marry who you like, the freedom to believe what you like. These are good freedoms. I think that your average Daily Mail reader is mainly afraid of pretend human rights, such as the right of a paedophile to get a council house, or for a foreigner to take £50,000,000 out of a granny's pension so they can buy a jet ski.

The government isn’t quite as extreme as the readers of the Mail. They don’t want to scrap it - indeed, they like most of it. They just want to change the bits that get in the way of them abusing people’s human rights.

The full government proposal is here. It’s eight pages long. If you’ve not got time to read it, it basically says “Human rights are good, and we want to keep them, except for people who we don’t think should have them.”

Plenty of supposed injustices are blamed on human rights protecting the criminal instead of the victims. But in almost every case, there’s more to it than that. I’m not a particular fan of Abu Qatada. But ultimately he was tortured - and the fact that we didn’t deport him to a country where evidence obtained under torture would be used against him? That makes us the better people. It isn’t an easy thing to do, but it’s exactly the fact that it’s hard that makes us look good. "No-one thinks you're cool for getting the fastest Mario Kart time on 50cc Mushroom Cup", as my granddad never said. "You need to do 150cc Special Cup to earn true respect."

Yes, human rights can be spun to look unfair and unjust. But ultimately, human rights enshrine in law the fact that we are better than dictators.

It could be argued that Cameron scrapping the Human Rights Act amounts to eradicating the safety and security of everyone in the country, just so they can have their way in a handful of atypical cases. It’s a bit like poisoning all the food in the world, just so you can be sure you’ll kill off ISIS.

But here’s the thing about human rights: everyone gets them. They’re automatic and unconditional. For example, we have a right to be free from torture. But that doesn’t mean that if you torture someone, you’re fair game for torture yourself. (Unless you’re David Miliband, in which case torture is fine as long as it happens overseas).

It shouldn’t need to be stated so explicitly that this is what makes us civilised. In fact, I feel like we’re living in a time when we’ve forgotten so much of the obvious. It’s like there are features of society that are so basic that we feel like they don’t need to be said - and perhaps because we don’t often repeat them, they fall away from our collective memory. Here’s a few off of the top of my head:

- A civilised society has a civilised justice system
- The banks caused the financial crisis, not unemployed and disabled people
- When we make people pay their fair share of tax, we can afford public services
- When people have meaningful, well-paid jobs, they are happy and more productive
- When things are run through common ownership, they are cheaper and work in everyone’s interest
- When we constantly consume and buy the latest gadgets, we speed up climate change

Maybe we need to start drilling these things into kids from an early age, because I genuinely do feel like people look at me as if I’m a lunatic when I express these opinions. A friend asked me if I was going to upgrade to the newest iPhone, and I said no because I’m worried about the fact that we’re running out of the precious metals involved. For the look they gave me, I might as well have said that I want to marry a tree.

And yes yes, we have responsibilities. We have a responsibility not to oppress anyone, we have a responsibility not to harm anyone. But the difference between a right and a privilege is that a right is unconditional. I have a responsibility not to torture anyone. And I don’t want to show off, but when I was a prefect in 6th form, my teacher said I was one of the most responsible prefects she’d ever seen. In retrospect, I think this was because I barely tortured anyone.

But if you do torture someone, you don’t lose the right to not be tortured. This is the difference between civilised society, and mob rule.

Fundamentally it comes down to a difference between left- and right-wing. The Guardian tells of one story that came to the ECHR, "Hamalainen v Finland, the case of a male-to-female transsexual unhappy that because same-sex marriage is forbidden in her country, her new gender could not be fully officially recognised unless she divorced or turned her religious marriage into a civil partnership."

My starting point in my politics is to care for people, and in this story I see a human being in a desperate situation, being denied the right to express her love and her identity by a government that hasn’t caught up with the process we’re making in societal equality. A human being that needs our help. This seems so obvious to me that it almost feels silly to say it so explicitly, like explaining at length why one plus two equals three.

The Daily Mail and its readership, on the other hand, frequently see trans people as sub-human, unreal, not normal, a nuisance, a waste of time. And that point is absolutely key. Opponents of human rights see other humans as sub-human. Barely even people at all. Because what are human rights, if not a framework in which to remind ourselves that humanity is important, that civilisation and compassion have to go hand-in-hand. And how on earth can you expect someone to feel compassion for another person, if they can’t even see them as human?

The same is true of asylum seekers. I see asylum seekers as people. I know, I know, it’s a controversial position to take, the idea that a human who has escaped torture or a war or a dictatorship might in some way be deserving of kindness and care. And of course, the Daily Mail absolutely does not see asylum seekers as human. It sees them as cattle, as vermin that need to be disposed of. It goes out of its way to dehumanise them. And there’s the crux of the issue. If you see humans as humans, you will want to protect their rights no matter what. If you don’t see humans as humans, then this attempt to uphold a civilised society is nothing more than barmy leftys taking their political correctness to new extremes.

Voting for prisoners. Where the right-wing would see it as foul that criminals could have a say in how our country is run, I say that treating criminals like humans is one of the key steps to rehabilitation. Besides, what do we think is the worst thing that will happen if criminals can vote? Is someone going to suddenly create The Murderers Party, lobbying on a platform of legalising all crime? They’re only going to vote for the same bunch of existing criminals as the rest of us already vote for.

(And quite frankly, I see a prisoner being able to vote as far less abhorrent than a politician selling a property for a million pounds, when the taxpayer helped him to buy it.)

I think part of the solution to all of this is that we need to make Britain a country known for kindness. I want to live in a country which is famous around the world for being happy, clever, cool, and more than anything, nice. In the short term, we need to fight for human rights. In the long term, we need to remind Britain what it means to feel compassion for other human beings. And it seems to me there’s a very easy way to get the ball rolling on this - we need to get people to stop buying the Daily Mail.
It’s been noted that younger people generally voted Yes in the Scottish referendum, and only voted No as the younger people became, for example, older.



As you can see, teenagers overwhelmingly voted Yes, a trend that continues into the middle-aged range, and only crosses over into No when the voters reach 55 and over. Having said that, there’s one small exception to this trend - the 18-24 age range.

Bloody precocious young bastards, always rebelling and causing problems for honest, well-meaning statisticians. Why can’t they just behave within predicted mathematical boundaries for a change?

What caused the 18-to-24s to go against the trend? Maybe English youngsters at Scottish universities are skewing the stats. Perhaps a lot of left-leaning people in that age bracket are off travelling, so aren’t in the country to vote. Or perhaps (this is the most likely explanation) everyone in Scotland in their early 20s is high on so many drugs that they didn’t really understand the question, and were too busy injecting marijuana into their eyeballs, LIKE ALL YOUNG PEOPLE DO, to even comprehend the fact that they were being polled.

But this blog isn’t about the blip. It’s about the swing to No as the voters get older.

Scotland has a lot of older people, so it makes sense that a No majority among the 55-and-aboves would have the power to decided it. They were worried about their pensions, and they voted sensibly. Of course, for anyone my age and below, the idea of having the security of a pension is an absurd fantasy, an ambition as outlandish and fanciful as owning your own unicorn, or owning your own house. So why not vote Yes? It’s less of a gamble, because you can’t lose something you didn’t have to begin with.

This leaves us with a situation in which a swing from the older generation can decide the course of a country’s policy. Does that seem fair to you? I’m not entirely convinced. After all, younger people will have to live with the consequences of that vote for much longer. Is it reasonable that someone who may only be alive for two more weeks has exactly as much say over such a permanent policy as someone who will be alive for perhaps ninety years or more? No right-minded person could describe this system as honest and just.

If we don’t act quickly, we may alienate this new generation we’ve just introduced to the democratic process. We may lose their youthful optimism and energy - an energy desperately needed to sustain the out-of-warranty life support system that British democracy currently depends on.

I may have a solution.

We’re all agreed that younger people should have a greater say than older people. Younger people have to live with the result of a decision for much longer, after all. This much is clear, and we don’t need to debate it further, because we all definitely agree on it.

Our problem is that in a one-person-one-vote system, this isn’t possible. But it’s in our power to change this.

If we were a civil and thoughtful society, we would immediately give younger people more votes than adults. Yes, more votes. We should give every 16-year-old a hundred votes. And for every year they get older, they have one vote taken away. A 26-year-old gets 90 votes, a 30-year-old has 86 votes, and so on.

This way, the voices of the young are amplified. Those people who’ll suffer the repercussions of an election have far more say. The wide-eyed hopefulness of the nation’s children (and after all, the children ARE our future) will shine through in government policy, bringing new drive, spirit and joy to politics, and to people’s lives. And on a practical level, younger people will be strong enough to fill in a hundred ballot papers, whereas someone older might get worn out after about thirty.

When you’re 115 years old, you will have only one vote left. Does that mean that someone who has reached the impressive age of 116 has their vote taken away? No. Only a monster would rob someone of their final vote. A monster like William Hague perhaps, or Iain Duncan Smith.

Surely a far more rewarding reward is to reward them with the reward of ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN votes. This gesture honours (or rewards, if you will) their wisdom and life experience, and is a far better present than a useless telegram from the Queen. Let’s be real: what kind of teenager even knows what a telegram is? You could probably give a #teen today a sheet of paper with TELLER GRAMM written on it in crayon at the top, and they’d be none the wiser. What do you even do with a telegram? Frame it? Burn it? Fuck it? No no, we can’t have our head of state sending messages to the elderly all day. She’s got far better things to do, like scowling at children, or scowling at foreigners, or scowling at Prince Philip.

Scrap the telegrams, and give one-hundred-and-sixteen votes to every 116 year old. If you disagree, you need to ask yourself why you hate old people, and why you would deny a 116-year-old the vote. Like William Hague wants.

It is my sincere, and true, and true, and definitely true belief that this system of age-based proportional representation is the only arrangement that can rightly be called democratic. Any other voting framework on the planet is simply inferior, corrupt, and unfair.

I implore you, write to your MP, and tell them that the Coltrane System is the only way to save democracy. And if they reply and say you’re a lunatic - well, they’re clearly an enemy of democracy and freedom, and no better than terrorists.
"Councils use controversial lie detector tests to catch benefit fraudsters". Another day, another piece of bullshit.

The key thing to understand here - and it's surprising how many people don't know this - is that there's no evidence that lie detectors can reliably prove that someone is lying! So it seems that the word "controversial" has an new exciting definition of "not proven to work".

I imagine there'll be further controversial headlines in the coming weeks, such as "George Osborne predicts growth in the economy using controversial system of astrology", or "Courts to gain evidence direct from victims in murder trials, thanks to the implementation of controversial ouija boards". Or "Health Secretary believes in controversial homeopathic medicine." …oh wait, that one's actually true. Man, writing political comedy is hard nowadays.

Apparently the lie detectors work by "listening in on calls and identifying signs of stress". Which will obviously be accurate, because people worrying about benefits and tax are never stressed, are they. Least of all when having to phone up the Department for Work and Pensions, who by all accounts are an absolute dream to talk with.

The system is used specifically "to check whether people are honestly claiming the single person council tax discount". Which is a very specific use for a lie detector, especially when we lose tens of billions of pounds a year to tax avoiders. If you were going to insist on lie detectors, you'd think you'd want to focus on the big hitters.

"Now, just answer truthfully. Is your chain of UK high-street clothes shops based in the the UK, or are they actually based in the Cayman Islands?"
"…………………..the second one?"
*buzzer goes wild, machine explodes*

According to the article, Southwark council "said it did not record how effective the scheme had been, but it did say that its real value was in making the public aware that it would crack down on benefit cheats."

Which is a real fuck-you to every single council tax payer in Southwark, where apparently the council has so little respect for people's money that they don't even bother checking if the things they spend it on are actually having an effect.

"Look, we don't keep records on how successful these ghost-catchers are. What I can say is that since we've started hiring them, my office feels far less haunted. Plus the kids like dancing around them and hiding under their capes, and in addition, any ghosts we DO catch will be sent back home immediately to the spirit realm where they come from, instead of living for free off of the state."

Obviously the technology is provided by Capita, the famously hopeless outsourcing company, who claim that the lie detectors are a "useful additional tool in the validation process". Which is a weird thing to say about a pseudo-scientific piece of garbage that has never been proven to work.

It wouldn't surprise me if Capita went on to win the contract to fix London's leaking water pipes, and claimed "When searching for leaking water pipes, these dousing rods really are a useful additional tool in the validation process."

Maybe their ignorance of science could even stretch to medicine, so if they win a contract to look after a burns unit on the NHS, they'll claim "When treating burns, rubbing KFC's unique blend of seven herbs and spices into the skin can be a useful additional tool in the healing process."

Most people would file lie detectors under "irrational decisions", considering that LIE DETECTORS DON'T FUCKING WORK. But actually, it's not at all surprising that they would be used by a government who ignores evidence-based decision making whenever it clashes with their ideology.

Workfare proven to not get people back into work? Better keep on going with it, then. Privatising the NHS makes things more expensive? Better privatise it, then. Not enough spare one-bedroom houses for single people to live in? Better punish people who live in a two-bedroom house, then.

So actually, the fact that the government wants to use lie detectors isn't controversial at all. Because when you realise that their main aim is to shrink the state, to cut tax bills and to make themselves personally richer, regardless of the evidence, then actually, using lie detectors is completely rational.

Which is kind of ironic, when you think about it.
Sometimes, the Tories makes mistakes when they decide to take away people's benefits. They're only human, after all. Well, apart from Michael Gove. And Iain Duncan Smith, who I believe is a robot with a turnip for a head. And also, all the rest of them also aren't human. But apart from literally all of them, they're only human.

When the government makes mistakes, people can appeal to have the mistake corrected, and their benefits re-instated. It's a concept you'll be familiar with, called "justice". Well, David Cameron thinks justice is bullshit. Get a load of this: the government is considering CHARGING people on benefits who want to appeal against the decision have their benefits withdrawn.

Of course they fucking are. This is exactly the kind of pioneering, blue-sky thinking we've come to expect from the team that launched the idea of "working for no money" as a solution to unemployment.

And I expect there's even more juicy morsels in the pipeline too, like "force people to pay their boss for the privilege of an honest day's work", and "stop kids lounging around in the library reading books, and put them to work in the slaughterhouses".

Perhaps by the end of next year we'll even hear about plans to "send the unemployed to the Moon to look for work". After all, our grandparents got on their bikes to look for work. Why shouldn't we be expected to get in our spaceships and hunt for a job around the galaxy? If there's a new zero-hours part-time job in a Burger King in Sector 9, you should get off your arse and fly there at the speed of light. Like the Iain Duncan Smith would. Admittedly, he has an advantage because he's a cyborg, but that's not the point.

The story gets even more astonishing: it turns out that 58% of appeals are successful. 58%!! In other words, the government actually gets it wrong more often than they get it right. Which means that essentially, the government plans to charge innocent people for its own mistakes!

I like the idea of expanding this brave new idea into other areas. Next time you do a supermarket shop online, and they bring you the wrong kind of apples, perhaps they could charge you for their mistake by taking away all the food in your house.

Or maybe if you go in for heart surgery and they remove a leg by mistake, the doctors could demand that you give them your other leg as payment for their mistake, because after all, what use is just one leg to them? They need the full set - collectors would demand it.

Perhaps when banks mis-sell PPI or charge us incorrectly, they could apologise by charging us again. And if ever the police lose the paper work on an important case, it seems only fair that we citizens be punished by having the police take away our house and family. Otherwise, how can we honestly say that justice has been done?

It does seem quite extraordinary that people who are already vulnerable, poor and confused could be sent into even further despair. And as always, the excuse given is that it's a way of raising money. And that is literally true, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea. Putting the NHS on eBay would raise money, but it doesn't mean we should do it. Especially when there are so many things we genuinely could sell. How much would America pay for the Queen? I reckon we could fund the entire NHS for a year with that profit.

It's no wonder that so many mistakes happen when we also learnt that Job Centre employees are actually rewarded and incentivised for cutting people's benefits. In what must be the saddest commission-based motivation in history, Political Scrapbook have received evidence of job centres that have a ‘scoreboard’ where they record the number of sanctions the staff have made using "shiny gold stars".

Which is really all that anyone wants in life, isn't it. A beautiful shiny gold star to call your very own. I assume that all the staff there think it's made of actual gold, and that they're using them as a substitute for a pension. Or maybe the Job Centre is actually just staffed by magpies. Please let it be the magpie one. Because the idea of actual human beings making someone go hungry just so they get something shiny next to their name on a wall... well, the thought leaves you rather empty, doesn't it?

I wonder if we could solve all the problems at the Job Centre just by giving all the staff a pack of gold stars each. I mean, they only cost like £2 from Ryman's. Can't we just have a whip-round?

In fact, this is a marvellous idea for a KickStarter. Let's get people on the internet to pledge £1 each. We'll launch a viral, celebrity-driven, highly re-tweetable campaign to raise awareness. And when we've raised the dizzying heights of, oh I don't know, £16, I'll pop down the shop and buy every staff member their very own pack of gold stars each. That way, they'll be able to stop destroying people's lives, and instead swim, literally swim, in all the gold stars they could ever dream of. It's a win-win.

We found out about the government's plans to charge people to appeal thanks to a leak. And I must confess, I do wonder how things like this get leaked. I used to just assume it was a disgruntled civil servant that wanted to expose the truth. But then I read a story about how the Tories control the news narrative. You know those public spats between David Cameron and Boris Johnson? Turns out they're all stage-managed public relations exercises. False, the lot of it.

It's the sort of thing that utterly alienates people from politics. There's no sincerity any more. It's all theatre, it's all fake.

And the consequence is that now, whenever I hear a story has been leaked, I don't trust it. Because why was it leaked? It must have been deliberate. Perhaps to distract us from something else. Perhaps the fact that it was too extreme is exactly the reason it was leaked, so that Cameron can come out and say "Of course we won't be charging people to appeal. But we do need to look at these legal costs, and that's why we need to cut 30% from yada yada yada".

So now, I don't trust any of it. I don't want to be so cynical as to think that every news story is planted, that it has an agenda beyond the obvious - but when you see how these creeps work, it's hard to think anything else.

The one silver lining to all this is that I think I can learn from these dark arts. If ever I get into power, I'm going to use this tactic in the opposite direction. I'll leak a story of my government's extremist plans to bundle the royal family into a cannon and fire them into the sun. And then when people get outraged, I can say "Don't be silly; of course we don't plan to shoot the Royal Family into space!

"But we do need to deal with the fact that this one family has been leeching off the state for centuries; this family that has over three generations out of work; this family that constantly has children at the tax payer's expense. And that is why we propose simply to get the entire family working full time - in Morrison's. To finally give back to the community from which they have so greedily taken."

On its own, it would seem like a silly idea. But compared to shooting them into the centre of the sun, it seems entirely reasonable. Thank you, Cameron. You have taught me the art of spin. For this, and this alone, I will always be grateful.
Ever wanted to be a coke chef? No, I’m not talking about Breaking Bad – I’m talking about SodaStream. The machine that gives you, yes *YOU*, the opportunity to make a kind of awkward futuristic home-made cola that tastes not so much of cola, but of sugar and sadness. This experience can be yours! All you have to do is pay far, far more money than it would cost to buy cola in cans.

Expensive AND unpleasant. What's not to like?

Everyone aged 25 to 35 has vague memories of SodaStream. No-one ever owned one themselves. They were always something the weird kid in school had, and everyone used to avoid going round their house because their mum would always force it on them just for the sake of using the damn stuff up. Er, I imagine.

I've always assumed that SodaStream was a thing of the past, like Bullseye, or polio. And besides, I'm not an ape, a base animal that makes his own cola and eats his own excrement. I'm stylish and refined. As a busy man-about-town, I haven't the time to make my own fizz-oh-pop, and I'm actively happy to pay a 5p premium on having it made for me, canned, and chilled for my convenience.

But today, I learned that I was wrong. SodaStream is not only back - it's gone political.

"Scarlett Johansson has chosen to end her collaboration with Oxfam International in favour of honouring her contract with SodaStream: an Israeli company that operates in the West Bank".

She gave up doing humanitarian work with Oxfam... to do an advert for SodaStream? Wow. WOW. I mean, there's selling out, and then there's selling out.

This just goes to show that there really is no money left in the arts. Nowadays, adverts are the only way that creative people like me and Scarlett Johansson (we are the same) can make ends meet. Work is harder to come by, and paid work is rarer still. Any struggling performer like Scarlett Johansson will tell you that.

And she deserves some money for a change. For years she's acted in movies on the Free Fringe model, standing with a bucket outside of the cinema asking people to pay what they think the movie is worth. I remember in 2012, flyering on the Royal Mile at the Edinburgh Festival with Scarlett Johansson, as she was desperately trying to get an audience in to watch The Avengers. She barely had enough money for lunch, but she kept on working, such was her commitment to her art.

So who would begrudge her the opportunity to actually earn some cash. I mean, it's not as if we live in a world where she gets paid £6,000,000 per film.

It seems to me that there can only be one of two reasons that she’s done this. Either Scarlett Johansson is genuinely so desperate for money that this is what she’s resorted to – which begs the question, how on earth can SodaStream afford her? Seriously, who is buying it. Are you buying it? I’m not buying it. I see it on the shelf there in Sainsbury’s, but the only thing I ever think when I see it is "Isn’t it weird how you never see anyone ever buying it?”.

Or the other alternative is that she genuinely loves the taste of SodaStream, and that she loves it more than she cares about ending world poverty. Well, it takes all sorts I suppose. In fact, maybe it’s just been Scarlett Johansson buying it this whole time. She’s been using her vast SodaStream wealth to sustain her 5-litres-a-day habit, and now finally she’s found a way to get the junk for free.

To be charitable, there is a third option: maybe she quit Oxfam to work for SodaStream because she believes that SodaStream is actually the answer to world poverty. So many sugary calories, concentrated into such a small space. It’s almost too perfect a solution, isn’t it? I mean, sure, it won’t work so well in places suffering from drought. Or places where privatised water has led to water becoming a luxury item. But maybe those people could just drink it like a shot of hard liquor. Anyway, the point is, she’s been wasting her time with Oxfam. Oxfam is for amateurs. If you truly want to make a lasting difference to the plight of the world’s 3 billion poorest people, there’s only one corporation to join.

I’d like to think that the paragraph above was a joke. Except that at the bottom of the article, we find a quote from Scarlett Johansson that might be my favourite thing this year. She genuinely said this in her statement to the press: "SodaStream is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights."

Oh really? SodaStream is committed to that, are they? SodaStream. That’s what fucking SodaStream is committed to. SodaStream's main priority is peace in Israel and Palestine, is it? It's a good job that Scarlett Johansson is here to tell us that, because if you'd have asked me, I would have naively guessed that SodaStream's main priority is to sell concentrated sugary syrups to gullible kids who haven't yet learned the true meaning of disappointment. But no, apparently their main priority is peace in the Middle East.

She has also said that she "never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance". So I suppose she was just an ambassador of Oxfam since 2007 by accident.

Quitting Oxfam to go to SodaStream an extraordinary leap for anyone to make, but especially for someone who is so fantastically wealthy that they shouldn’t have to do a single advert in their life. Every single penny being earned from these adverts is pure greed.

But it has inspired me to give up my job as a doctor. Instead, today I am happy to announce that I am going to work for British Aerospace, the weapons and bombs manufacturer. As a doctor, I tried to fix people by curing their diseases. Whereas now I realise that the best way to eradicate disease is to kill the people who are selfishly hosting the disease in the first place. Thank you, British Aerospace. And thank you Scarlett Johansson. Together, you and I will surely make the world A Better - And Sweeter - Place To Be™.

Lolitics: The rules of the live gig.

EDIT 14/02/2014: I've had a couple of emails from comedy clubs around the world asking if they can use these rules, after hosting nights where it all turned a bit nasty. Please do! It's awfully flattering that people like the sound of them enough to apply them to their own gig. And running a gig by "Lolitics rules" has quite a nice ring to it, don't you think

As far as I'm concerned, the rules are open-source. If you get a chance to credit me and the club then that's lovely and I'd be ever-so-grateful to you for it, but it's not a big deal if you don't. What matters is that we're making safe spaces for people to enjoy comedy, wouldn't you say?


I run a political comedy club in Camden, called Lolitics. It's super-friendly, and proudly lefty. The emphasis is on kindness, on protests and activism, on being positive and inspiring and changing the world for the better. It's also a new material night, so we try jokes for the first time, read from notes and muck about. Success is very much optional.

You may know that there are some rules to the gig. For the audience: no heckling. For the acts: no rape jokes, no racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia/disablism/etc, and no picking on the audience. It's essentially a kind of enforced niceness, with the aim of creating a safe space for the acts to try new jokes, and for the audience to relax and not feel like they're going to be picked on.

There are people who are put off of going to live comedy, for fear of nastiness and bullying. Of course, not all comedy clubs are like that. In fact, I'd say very few clubs are like that. But enough of them exist to put people off going at all. This makes me very sad indeed, and I want to do something about that, by letting people know that my gig is a safe space, a place you can come to if you want to learn about the alternative. With that in mind, I thought it'd be cool to share the rules with you, which I recently wrote up to make them a bit more formal.

If you like what you see, why not come down? The gig is upstairs at the Black Heart pub in Camden, on the 3rd Tuesday of most months, except sometimes it's on Monday, and also we take July and August off. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and I'll give you the dates.

It's £3 to get in, and the line-ups are always good. Regular acts include Mark Thomas, Rob Newman, Josie Long, Bridget Christie, Andy Zaltzman, and a whole load more. We have games and jokes and competitions, and afterwards we all go to Parliament and have a revolution.

================

LOLITICS: THE RULES.

Three rules about what you can't do:

1) No rape jokes. People have different definitions of what a rape joke is, so to save time, let me clarify what I'm trying to achieve: I’m trying to create a safe space for people who may have been the victim of some kind of assault, and who find jokes and conversations about rape, and even the word rape itself, triggering. So when I say “no rape jokes” I definitely mean jokes where rape is used as a punchline, but I also mean it more broadly, meaning jokes that involve the word rape. Don’t use rape as an analogy, don’t use the word lightly.
Does that mean you shouldn't mention the word rape at all? Not necessarily, but possibly. For example, you could talk about how rape crisis centres are being closed down, in a set on how the government treats women. That sort of stuff is really important to talk about. But be sensitive, be kind, be thoughtful with it. Keep the "safe space" philosophy at the front of your mind. If you're unsure, leave it. There are other things to talk about instead, I’m sure.

2) No jokes that are sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic/disablist/etc. That includes stuff like “I hate the French” or jokes about the fact that someone’s ugly, calling something retarded, laughing at a politician for being overweight, etc etc. If I've missed any “-ism” out, it doesn't mean it's allowed! I know that sounds like a silly thing to say, but once someone in the audience did come up to me and ask why "no disablist jokes" wasn't part of the rules I say at the start of the gig! Basically, don't be a dick.

3) Please don’t pick on the audience. That includes asking them questions one-on-one, getting them up on stage, being unkind to them. This isn’t a normal comedy club. Don’t banter with them, let them sit in peace. If you need people to join you on stage, that's totally fine - let me know before the gig, I'll get some volunteers during the interval. Loads of people will be keen to join in, I just don’t want anyone to be forced to join in. In return, the audience is also not allowed to
heckle – and trust me, you’ll have one of the loveliest audiences in London. It’s a really friendly and lovely gig, and these rules are there to keep it that way.

Rules about what you CAN do:

1) You can be as shambolic as you like. I usually am! It's a new material night; feel free to treat it like one.
-- Read from notes
-- Stumble over words
-- Tell jokes you've never told before
-- Don't be afraid to fail.
-- I can’t stress this enough: success is optional. ;)

2) Feel free to talk for a while without a joke, if there's a political point you want to make. Be impassioned. Punchlines aren't essential, especially if you've something to say that will move or inspire people.

3) Remember that it's a political gig. Forget light news/celebrity gossip. We can do better than that. And politics is broad, too. Climate change, feminism, the economy, world news, party politics, protests, science/religion etc etc - anything is on topic as long as it's meaningful.

4) Finally, all styles are welcome. Stand-up, storytelling, sketch, song, even silly absurdism that uses politics as a starting point for some abstract nonsense. Be creative if you like, or talk from the heart if you like. It’s all good. Just have fun! :)

===============================

PS. One last thing. Occasionally, acts may get it wrong, and they might break a rule without realising it. There's a no heckling rule at the gig, but don't be shy to come up to us after the gig and have a chat if you think we've got it wrong. we're only human. Well, apart from me - I'm half human, half internet. If you cut me, I'll bleed memes.

Lolitics Podcast - Episode 6!

After far too long a wait, I've finally made a new episode of the Lolitics podcast! Let's call this a combined birthday and Christmas present. An hour and a half of free political comedy, that was extremely topical two weeks ago when we did it.

(For newbies: I political comedy club in Camden, called Lolitics, and this is an occasional podcast where I share almost complete recordings of the evening. This episode comes from 16th October 2013, with stand-up from me, Tiernan Douieb, John-Luke Roberts and Grainne Maguire, and four songs from the brilliant political folk singer Grace Petrie. Imagine getting all that for free. Just sit there, and try to imagine it. It's kinda fun to imagine it, right? WELL IMAGINE NO LONGER.)

Download Episode 6 directly here!

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes here! (I made a mistake and had to re-upload the file, and at the time of writing this iTunes hasn't seen the change, so sorry if the latest episode isn't on here yet. Download it directly from the link above if it isn't)

Subscribe to the podcast in non-iTunes here!

If you like the podcast, here's some things you can do to support it:

- Come to the gig in real life! It's on the 3rd Tuesday of every month, at the Black Heart in Camden.
- Give us a lovely iTunes review.
- Please share the podcast with as many people as you can! Tweet this link, Facebook it, email it to people you think might like it. I'd be so, so, so grateful if you did.

- Follow me on Twitter: @chris_coltrane
- Follow my page on Facebook
- Join my mailing list for a monthly update about my gigs/writing/protests/fun
This blog was originally printed a few months ago in the July/August issue of New Internationalist. You should subscribe to it. It's the best world news magazine for anyone interested in radical, thoughtful politics. My other articles for them are here.

New Internationalist readers come in many flavours: anarchist, liberal, socialist, feminist, brigadier, super-villain, or plain old scamp. But no matter what your political allegiance, please always remember this: only my opinions are correct, and everyone else is wrong.

Whatever your ideology, I'm sure you'll have heard your less radical friends say something along the lines of "Aah well, socialism is all very well in theory, but it'd never work in practice."

But that assumes that capitalism does work in practice. Because imagine if we lived in a world where every human was equal, a world with no repression, torture, or violence, where no-one went without food or shelter, and where everyone had an opportunity to learn and grow and be who they wanted to be. Imagine the socialist paradise I dream of. And then imagine someone came along and said "See this random billion people that live on the bottom of the planet? Well, I've had a few drinks, and I've had a GENIUS idea: let's make them live in civil war and abject poverty."

"No no, hear me out, it gets better, because everyone else on the planet will be massively unequal, BUT - and here's where I blow your tiny minds - about a thousand random white dudes will control the entire money and food supply, and have essentially all the power you could possibly dream of. Also, women will have less power and money than men, and we'll give One Direction a record deal. Who's in?"

I think people assume that the current system works because, thanks to an accident of birth, they happen to be the system's beneficiaries. Because by any objective analysis, the system is utterly broken. Take food speculation, where the markets gamble on the price of food. Personally, I don't see why they have to gamble on something so destructive. There's a Ladbrokes on every high street. Can't they just bet on horses like all the other addicts?

Or maybe that's where they start, but eventually they think to themselves "It's cool that horses are dying for my pleasure, but I fancy something a bit more risky. Ideally I'd like to cause mid- to large-scale poverty, while using the untraceable fortunes of billionaires to bring capitalism to the brink of collapse. But I suppose that's a happiness I'll never know." And then someone in a black suit and shades taps them on the shoulder and says "We've been waiting for this day. Come with us. We have a job for you."

Our "working" system is one where a rich elite cabal of men can gamble on the price of food. The consequence is soaring food prices in the third world, and poverty of such extremes that in 2008 people in Mexico and Haiti actually rioted in the streets. The prices rise not because of poor harvest or low stocks, but because of market speculation. The food is there, but thanks to banks like Goldman Sachs people just can't afford it. This is 21st century capitalism in perfect working order.

(More close to my own heart, in 2010 the price of cocoa beans rose 150% in 18 months, which forced chocolate-makers to use less cocoa. For me, this was the final straw. You can take my bread, you can take my corn, you can take my meat, milk and fish. But if you even THINK of taking my chocolate, I will find you and I will end you.)

How on earth can anyone say we live under a system that works? It's hard to think of a more broken form of world government. Even Argos and Ikea aren't as inefficient as this.

Of course, Goldman Sachs made £250m from a spike in food prices, which helped contribute to their 68 per cent jump in profits for 2012. So I suppose capitalism does work - as long as you're a sociopath.

If people think equality and social justice are unrealistic, then we really are lacking in imagination. When they try to tell you that our better-world ideals are unrealistic, tell them it's unrealistic to allow elite bankers to send tens of millions of people into starvation. In the mean time, I'll be over here with all the other cool activists, building our new reality, made of compassion and love. And not a One Direction record in sight.
This year at the Edinburgh festival I had the honour of having a joke from my show included in the Top Ten Best Jokes on the Fringe.

Personally, I thought the joke didn't work quite as well when it's written down - "The good thing about lending someone your time machine is that you basically get it back immediately." - but people liked it, they voted for it, it got my name out there a bit, it was a nice treat.

The round-up of the best jokes on the Fringe is sponsored by Dave, who push to get the list into as many newspapers as possible. One of the newspapers it featured in is Rupert Murdoch's The Sun. You'll remember Rupert Murdoch's ethical organisation from such adventures as lying about Hillsborough, and hacking the phones of the dead.

I was one of a few comics who had their photo alongside their joke in The Sun's article:



But wait a second. I recognise that picture... That's a publicity photo from my stand-up show last year, Activism Is Fun! (Which you can download for free here!) And they've cropped it, so it's just my face.

That's weird. Why would The Sun crop out of the rest of the photo?

I think I might know why...

Chris lives in London, and tries his hardest to be a cool political comedian who makes you smile and laugh etc.

He'd love it if you went to chriscoltrane.com and downloaded his free stand-up shows.

Twitter: @chris_coltrane

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