Book review: A Very British Coup by Chris Mullins

A Very British CoupA Very British Coup by Chris Mullin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s so unrealistic to have a story about a media smear campaign…

Against all pundit expectations, Harry Perkins wins the UK election with his lefty policies. As soon as his government takes office the populace celebrates while the rich and powerful start plotting his downfall. The rich owners of the media lead a smear campaign. The landed gentry in positions of influence and those wishing to win titles with their appropriate service in the public sector undermine Perkins at every turn. And the UK allies, like the US, try to block the removal of bases and nuclear warheads with their extensive network of spies and monetary power. Can Harry and his government survive this Very British Coup?

I really enjoyed this book.

A Very British Coup popped onto my radar after the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. In this revised edition, Chris Mullin had added a foreword discussing the revised interest in the novel and the Corbyn link. One point he made was quoting from an article written by a recently retired head of the security services (MI5). The quote revealed that Mullin’s plot wasn’t far fetched at all. And given this novel was based on rumours that the security services had undermined a lefty government in the 70s (not to mention something similar happening in my home country of Australia), it appears this book is on the money.

That isn’t to say this is a perfect book. I found the writing, whilst fast-paced, a bit flat. I’m not sure if that is the same for the characters, as I watched the mini-series before reading the book, so it is hard to tell how much I imported the actor’s characterisations. But it is fair to say that this Very British Coup will ring true for anyone watching global north countries’ politics closely.

Give it a read and then sceptically eye those media headlines and scandals.

Comments while reading:
Intro to the new version makes reference to an article written by the former head of MI5 saying that Jeremy Corbyn was evil and would have been targeted by them. So, let’s dive into this totally fictional book….

View all my reviews

Sorry about the potato resolution quality of the video, but it is the only version I’ve seen available anywhere.

Book review: The Establishment by Owen Jones

The Establishment: And How They Get Away with ItThe Establishment: And How They Get Away with It by Owen Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

*Puffs on cigar* The Establishment, hey, this sounds like a book for me.
*Pulls out monocule to read sub-heading* This book is trash!

Owen Jones’ The Establishment is an attempt to lift the veil on how power and the powerful have seized increasing levels of control and wealth from society at the expense of everyone else. It covers several facets, from the creators of the intellectual frameworks, through the enforcers of control, to the self-entitled people treating the economy like a casino safe in the knowledge the plebs will bail them out.

This was an excellent read and filled in a lot of the details for events and social changes we’ve heard covered numerous times. Instead of hearing these details discussed by the usual apologists of the status quo, Owen makes it clear what is happening and weaves it together as a solid narrative and argument for change.

Needless to say, I’m sure that plenty of the dismissals of this book did so by spotting a misplaced percentage symbol or by the tried and trusted baseless accusations of inaccuracy or confusion.

As an Aussie, I saw a lot of parallels between what Jones discussed for the UK and what the experience has been in Australia. The effective lack of difference between the two major parties (nominally right and left, but realistically described as shit and slightly less shit), the dominance of conservative (Murdoch owned) media, and the close ties of the powerful, all very familiar. This book could have been written about Australia, not the UK.

In some respects, the book, A Game of Mates, tried to cover much of the same ground. That book failed to be convincing as it lacked some of the scholarship and well thought out solutions you’d want. Jones’ The Establishment is the opposite, as it is compelling, and thus I take his arguments and solutions far more seriously.

Some of the solutions are no-brainers, like instead of taxpayer bailouts being socialism for the rich they could instead be the taxpayers buying the banks, utilities, etc. But some ideas, like stopping the revolving door, are more difficult and not fleshed out enough. This was also a solution proposed in A Game of Mates, and as I said in that review, it’s not well thought out. Are we just going to say that people can’t take on a different job in their field of expertise? Are we trapping them? Would it not be better to look at examples of where there isn’t/wasn’t a revolving door, and create those conditions (which I imagine would relate to a robust sense of community and contribution rather than thinking about how to game the system).

The Establishment is worth reading and then discussing widely.

Edit: Listening to an interview with Stacey Abrams reminded me of something that Jones said throughout the book that was quite important. There is this idea that the “two sides” of politics differ greatly and are hugely divided. Abrams stated that “conservatives want to conserve, which means protecting inequalities and suffering that occurs now from getting better” (approximate quote).

But something that I’ve noticed, and a point that Jones made throughout with reference to polling and surveys, is that there is a lot more common ground than people think. Jones argued that in many respects, the people who want the most progressive measures taken also happen to be voting for the most regressive and conservative parties and politicians. This is generally because supposed left or progressive politics doesn’t capture the attention, while those ultra-conservative voices are able to rally populism and easy messages to address complex issues (the classic being to blame the job stealing, dole bludging Schrodinger’s immigrant for whatever real issue).

So it is a trap people are falling into when assuming that the populous are somehow not looking to make society better. The real problem is actually selling the message of being able to make society better rather than just putting a fresh coat of paint on the status quo.

Comments while reading:
The main thrust, as outlined in the Introduction and part of the first chapter, reminds me of A Game of Mates and the TV mini series (based on a book) A Very British Coup. The former was a somewhat disappointing book that I felt lacked some evidence and cohesive thought to the arguments, which I get the early impression Jones isn’t replicating (i.e. he’s making a solid case).

The argument is similar to what we see in A Very British Coup where the power sphere is inherently conservative and the general populous is complicit in that continuing because the system was designed to keep democracy from eroding the power of the powerful. In that series (and the book), the powerful literally seek to undermine the democracy of their nation using any and all means. Obviously, completely fiction and no parallels to real life events can be drawn… (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Very_…)

The “good old days” that many people talk about were also the times of social democracy (at least partly). That annoyed the neo-liberals and free marketeers. Yet many of the reactionaries today would still point a hazy finger to those years as “great” (less for the economic social democracy and more for the bigotry). So it could be argued that many of the economic policies post-WW2 are what we need. It had more equal economic policies and it was a stark contrast to the pre-war policies that produced significant inequality in society.

Found myself nodding so much, but none more so than with the conclusion. I’d pull out some quotes, but the entire thing is a great summary of what needs to be done and why.

View all my reviews

The status quo may be treated as common sense now, but future generations will surely look back with a mixture of astonishment and contempt at how British society is currently organized: the richest 1,000 individuals worth £520 billion,1 while hundreds of thousands of people have to queue to eat in food banks; a thriving financial elite that helped plunge Britain into a vortex of economic collapse, which was rescued by over £1 trillion of public money but continues to operate much as before; a reigning dogma that treats the state as an obstacle to be eradicated and shunned, even as the state serves as the backbone for private interests; a corporate elite, dependent as it is on state largesse, that refuses to contribute money to the state; a media that does not exist to inform, educate, as well as challenge all those with power, but which serves as a platform for the ambitions, prejudices and naked self-interest of a small number of wealthy moguls. More startling to our descendants will be how this was passed off as normal, as entirely rational and defensible, and how institutions run by the elite attempted, with considerable success, to redirect people’s anger to those at the very bottom of society.

Can you name a book?

creative-bookshelf-18__700

Sounds like a simple challenge, right? Name a book, any book at all.

In the long tradition of asking Americans general knowledge questions on the street and filming their glorious ignorance, I present this video from Jimmy Kimmel.

Before we all laugh and point at the Americans and insult their intelligence, let’s remember that you could do this just about anywhere. Although, Americans do make this stuff easy at times. I’ve previously discussed the reading figures for the US, UK, and Australia. I’m sure those numbers are at least in the same ballpark as other countries, if not outright representative.

Wait, why guess when I can actually use the wonders of the greatest information resource in human history to look that up? Why have an unfounded opinion that I then rant about in indignant outrage, arrogantly assuming I’m right and belittling anyone who does bother to look up the data? To the research!

Let’s start with the data that the above video was citing from Pew Research.

ft_18-03-22_nonbookreaders_whohasnt
Source

As we can see, the 24% figure is showing that older, poorer, less educated, men (just), and Hispanics read less in the USA. This isn’t a new conclusion, as data from Pew in 2016 shows. The conclusion around the number who don’t read is also similar to the 2016 results of 26% not having read a book in the last 12 months. I’m not sure you can interpret much change over time in the number of people reading, but numbers might be slowly decreasing (although, look at the uptick in audiobooks as that format has come down in price).

ft_18-03-07_bookreading_printbooks
Source

Now we can look at how the USA sits in terms of reading. I’ve previously discussed how Aussies spend roughly 23 minutes per day reading (ABS figures), or an hour a day if you believe the Australian Arts Council report (I suggested there was possible survey bias in that figure). Below you can see that the NOP World Culture Score puts Australia at 6 hours 18 minutes – which I think makes this an “ALL-YOU bench-press” set of numbers.

chartoftheday_6125_which_countries_read_the_most_n
Source: Statista

This chart suggests that the USA is probably typical for English speaking countries, but that many other countries read far more on a weekly basis in terms of hours. Unless reading is code for something else in non-English speaking countries. Maybe they thought they were being asked about how many hours they spent having sex per week.

If we then look at the countries and how frequently they read books you can see in the chart below that they were afraid to include the bars for “didn’t read a book”. The high end has only 14% of Chinese people not reading a book, whilst the low end has the Dutch at 43% not reading (USA comes in at 29%, UK 28%, Australia 38% – I demand a recount!!).*

Screen Shot 2018-05-25 at 7.50.23 pm
Source: Statista

How about the number of books people read, or at least what they claim once they round up?

number_of_books_read_in_the_last_12_months2c_2011
Source: Eurostat

table-2
Source

Screen Shot 2017-10-08 at 6.24.23 PM
Source

What this all shows is that there are plenty of countries where you could ask ten people on the street to name a book and have one or two of them fail. You could ask those ten people what book were they reading today and only three of them could. Isn’t that sad? I reckon people would really enjoy reading if they made time for it. I’ve commented before on why I think people don’t read, suggesting that they don’t because they get told to read literature when they actually enjoy thrillers, sci-fi, and romance.

Maybe it is time to change that before someone sticks a camera and microphone in our faces.

*Be careful with my assumption here. Depending on how the question was asked and any other unreported categories, I may be very wrong in assuming the unreported numbers are non-readers.

Book review: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Raising Steam (Discworld, #40)Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.
Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.

It has been a while since I journeyed from Roundworld to Discworld and with Sir Terry’s passing, it seemed like the right time. The trouble with picking a Discworld novel to read is which of the 41* to choose. I settled upon Raising Steam, the ode to the very British obsession with steam trains.

Two things struck me when reading Raising Steam. First was that the TV miniseries adaptation of Going Postal was perfectly cast. Reading I couldn’t help but see Charles Dance as Vetinari and Richard Coyle as Moist (Slightly Damp). This gives me great hope for the forthcoming adaptation of the best novel of all time, Good Omens. The second thing was that as a non-British person I feel like I’m missing many of the jokes. There are so many references throughout the novel that hint at jabs being taken at various cultures, peoples, politicians, and institutions. Some are obvious, like the French and Aussie ones, but others I’m guessing I’d have to have been to the UK to understand.

This is all another way of me saying that there is no such thing as a bad Discworld novel. Goodbye, Sir Terry, thanks for the legacy.

*41 later in 2015, 40 as of this review’s writing.

View all my reviews

Choosing a location for your story

32359_388405211247188_455351472_n

As much as I love America, does every crime and thriller novel written have to be set there? Wouldn’t it be great if more stories chose some other locations?

Before anyone jumps on me, yes, I know, there are plenty of stories set in diverse locations. My comment is more about the way writers are so often told that people only want to read stories set in the US, that it has to appeal to the US market. I think we all know that this is a presumption on behalf of the industry for us readers. Let’s try and push for the more challenging locations in the stories we read.

E-book statistics for 2012

I seem to be finding a bunch of cool infographics recently, they are the future of communication (warning, sarcasm may be in affect here). It is always interesting to see what the status of sales, especially e-book sales. Personally, I see the e-book becoming the new paperback within a few years, and I also think that backlists will be all e-books. What will be really interesting is whether authors will be the one controlling their backlists or whether publishing houses will want to grab hold of those. Then it becomes a case of what rates are paid on backlist, because the sunk costs are a frontlist issue, so you would expect a greater author share of sales (although it could be argued that sunk costs are sunk, thus trying to recoup those costs as part of the sale price is bad economics).

ebook-market-2012-us-uk-canada-australia_50291c7f807a7_w594

TV Shows From Around the World

I was viewing the new series of Sherlock, written by the fantastic Steven Moffat (Coupling, Dr Who, Jekyl), when a thought occurred to me; would the deli be open to sell me an ice cream at this hour? Sadly it wasn’t, which gave me plenty of time to think about how various countries differ in the way they do TV shows and movies.

I present my musings and gross generalities about TV shows around the world.

UK – Talkies.

The best Dr Who – Tom Baker a close second.

When I think of UK TV in general I think very little action but a lot of dialogue. Not much happens in any one episode of UK TV, but all the characters have a lot to say. The best shows – often written by the aforementioned Steven Moffat et al. – are also witty and intelligent.

A great example of this is Dr Who, the David Tennant version. The Doctor is stuck in a life or death situation – lets say its Darleks about to shoot him – and yet he talks his way out of it. Any other country would have him ducking for cover. Another example is the crime drama Luther. This is more an exploration of the main character and his strained relationships and his commitment to solving crimes.

Example: Sherlock, Luther.
Outlier: The Bill (cookie cutter).

USA – Explosions and cookie cutter formats.

Cookie-Cutter was a term invented for this franchise. 

The Americans are terrific at doing formulaic shows. Their crime shows follow the same patterns each episode, the dramas have a list of top topics – also used for identifying when they have jumped the shark – and all their comedies gradually morph into dramas. They also do gun fights and explosions. More bullets are fired in one episode of US TV than in the entire year of all TV shows from the UK and Australia (NB: made up statistic that is possibly true but I’d have no idea).

As a result they can attract audiences in large numbers to watch things go bang. The longer the show runs the less ideas are used in any one episode as the formulae takes over. In fairness, compared to UK TV, series in the US produce a lot more episodes, so writers would have a harder time coming up with fresh material.

Example: CSI whatever.
Outlier: Justified, The Wire.

Australia – Soapies.

Neighbours, the long running steaming pile of dog droppings.

Aussies can’t produce a TV show that isn’t a soapie. We have tried many times, failing miserably to make the show not morph into a soapie. Sometimes we start off with a great premise and even a few episodes that show promise, but it doesn’t take long before we have just another soapie.

I don’t watch Aussie TV any more.

Example: We don’t do anything other than soapies.
Outlier: The little watched Good Guys, Bad Guys.

Western Europe – Gritty and noir.

Unit One making you squirm.

Americans have recently started (re)making European shows with more explosions. They have realised that there are so many well written shows there that they just had to copy them. Since Americans can’t handle accents and subtitles they need to redo the lot. Of course the Americans are then surprised when there is something lacking in their version.

I don’t know why, but gritty seems like a default position in every drama produced in Europe (Inspector Rex doesn’t count). As a result shows can become very dark, but at the same time are generally more substantive.

Example: The Elephant, The Killing, Unit One.
Outlier: All the same soaps and reality TV that they produce like every other country/region.

Canada – USA shows

We’re in Canada Scully; it’s a conspiracy!

If it is a US TV show, it is likely to be made in Vancouver. My theory for this phenomenon is that American actors and stuntmen on TV shows generally aren’t making enough money to afford decent health care. As a result they like to locate themselves in a country that has proper health care available. Just a theory.

One of the ways to spot an Canadian TV show versus an American TV show is how much shooting and explosions occur during any one episode. At one end you have American shows, at the other end you have Canadian shows, and right in the middle are the Canadian produced American shows.

Example: Stargate, Supernatural.
Outlier: Any show that looks kinda American but hasn’t got people shooting someone every 2 minutes.

Eastern Europe, South America & Asia
I’d like to know more as Australians don’t have many of them on our screens.

NB: I’ve tried to be as intentionally insulting to the various countries with my observations as possible. There is a lot of great TV out there, Australia makes virtually none of it, so I’m bitter, resentful and ultimately jealous.