Among the benefits of having a clear head in the evening is the freeing up of synapses that would otherwise be closed down. Engagement circuits, the ones governing (self)care, the bits that get irate, unhappy, the ones that get over-excited. It is also, longer term, the bits that cover amusement and enjoyment as well; all blissfully fuzzed over and turned down, ‘dark’ setting, less brightness.

With the absence of the dampener of alcohol, all of those come back on, which can be both boon and bane. I find myself spending hours trying to get the same kind of levelling off from reading… content, input, til I find the click.

Current status: a modest 10 tabs open, one of which is WordPress, where I’m typing this. I follow a lot of newsletters, all of which link to stuff I find interesting for different reasons.

So, keeping the head busy, but there’s always more content. Input…

Probably room to improve the filtration here too!

The middle of the week is enlivened by a carpentry course that I enrolled in last September. I’ve hand made a side-table!

It’s been very instructive – not just about woodworking techniques, e.g. the haunched mortise and tenon joints that are holding the table together. It’s offered me some fresh perspectives on the ways I can overthink things. Frustrations stemming from some fool’s quest for perfection, intersecting with the requirement to make pieces of timber into certain shapes and be square and of the correct dimensions, might seem like a recipe for brain explosions and total grumpiness.

Somehow though the craft seems to totally subdue the mental wrangling. Learning to follow and enjoy the process, getting into the moment of whatever it is that’s being done, and all the unnecessary thought gets smoothed off.

Tonight I was attempting dovetail joints. So fiddly! Definitely need some more practice with those. Good, however, for those one-line-of-a-song earworms I invariably get in such a scenario.

Oh yeah.

My basic point here is that news media seems to have become a cartoon, yet it is the viewer who is standing in thin air, holding a hand-lettered sign reading “Have mercy”.

“News” has always been subject to partisan adaptation, but in recent years there has been a lurch towards more and more overt manipulation and propaganda.

I don’t mean all that made-up stuff on Facebook. Which, by the way, appears even MORE made-up the more I see that one screen grab that proves Russia was trying to make fools out of America in the Presidential election. The Satan arm-wrestling Jesus one? I’ve never seen it in any other form except that one screen grab. Anyway.

The problem of the use by Trump (et al) of the term “fake news” is that what is frequently termed “the mainstream media” (MSM) (which I take it refers to traditionally reputable reporting outlets like newspapers, their online versions, BBC, ITV, Sky News, and the US equivalents) are, indeed, now perhaps more than ever, offering clearly biased versions of events, or frequently just making shit up.

It is a pantomime so painfully laboured that it is unclear for whom the entertainment is intended.

It could be argued that with the presentation of some issues in the news cycle being so blatantly one-sided and manipulative, there must be some other aim to the parade of bogus views, faked outrage and nose-leading opinion pieces masquerading as reporting.

Distractive media, one might call it, existing purely to have everyone looking at something else while some particularly egregious scheme is effected.

In the UK, for one example, we have Katie Hopkins, whose utterances I greet with a shrug when I hear about them. Her provocations are such a contrivance that I cannot expend any energy on them.

For another example, follow @geoffreyjewdas on Twitter and work backwards to the BBC’s latest round of character assassination concerning Jeremy Corbyn.

The Salisbury “chemical weapons” thing.

It is documented fact that eccentric multimillionaires attempt to control the discourse. Their reaction to a loss of monopoly, through individuals being able to access information directly, with millions simply not trusting them n’more, seems to have been to insist that their broadcasting organs present increasingly quixotic and offensively skewed information.

There’s a sense of acceleration about it too, an increasingly frantic scramble towards the base, which appears also to be a mode manufactured deliberately.

Yet with cackhanded obviousness, brazen wrongness. This seems more about attempts – and I mean comically slapdash attempts – to control people’s perceptions of events in a way that suggests our overlords don’t care who knows they’re trying to do it, or that they think no one can tell. Only, is it because “they” – The Man – think it’s safe to just do what they like, or that they want everyone to think that?

It calls to mind a real-world version of Facebook’s walled garden. A place where individual stories can’t change individuals’ decisions, but the overall backdrop can manipulate the way those events are interpreted. Only the backdrop here is apparently one of those Wile E. Coyote works, painted over a canyon wall, through which Roadrunner disappears, and from which emerges a truck, with horn blaring.

Viewed from outside the cartoon, it is funny in its preposterousness. Inside the world of the cartoon, from the point of view of the Coyote, it is an affront to reason, one that might legitimately prompt another hand-lettered sign saying “What the fuck is going on?”

“Your culture,” drawled the Finn, “it’s like the character in Psycho Killer. You, know the Talking Heads song?” There was a pause for this to sink in, for her to take a long speculative punctuation drag on a cigarette. “Not the psycho killer. The other one. ‘You’re talking a lot – but you’re not saying anything.’ You know?” She narrowed her eyes, which she hadn’t taken off the screen, as she blew out a fat stream of smoke. White-tipped Marlboro Menthols. Brushing a trailing blonde fringe behind her left ear, she shook her head briefly.

On the screen, a young-looking man with a beard and hedge-backwards hair was waggling a microphone with one hand while with the other hand was running through a series of exercises – dead spider, itemisation, happy talking, talking, happy talk. Behind him, in big letters on the set of the TV comedy panel game show, it read ‘Lines You Wouldn’t Hear In A TV Detective Show.’

Shifting uneasily on the sofa, Mank Wolfenstein thought briefly but without urgency that he should respond on behalf of his culture, so brusquely maligned. However, he shifted back, Wolfenstein could not help but hear the heavy emphasis on the possessive pronoun, the noun itself. His culture. His brain echoing her words, gesturing at the screen with an open palm, a sarcastic eyebrow. Hmmm, yeah.

He watched the young man leave the floor of the set to return to his seat washed by waves of undeserved applause, and sat agog with dismay as the next participant, a little bald man with a sandy musketeer beard, took the microphone and began a skit invoking well-hackneyed stereotypes of TV detective shows, long years since self-parodied into redundancy. Wolfenstein had stopped listening before the speaking began. Fuck, no, not him too, he thought. He hadn’t even been watching, and suddenly there he was, swinging from the lights and into the fray, the little slap-headed musketeer of inept comedy, all for one, one for no fucker whatsoever.

Listen to yourself. An inner shake of the head. She’s right, Wolfenstein thought. I’ve heard the same shit from 20 different comedians over the course of the preceding – fucking – two minutes or some shit. The more diluted it is, the worserer. And this… Thinking on it some more, aided by a sip of beer from a bottle whose top was warming in his uneasy grip, Mank added to himself that in fact, rather than react defensively, he was honour bound to admit that Magda was right. She’s right. I fucking hate this cunt, he thought. Devil-may-care, he decided: this was the appropriate response.

“Yeah, I hate these cunts too.” Emboldened by the act of naming his disdain, Wolfenstein widened his aim.

“Tsk. That word. You are right, of course, but still. Do not ennoble him with it.”

Magda smiled briefly, her comments dry, without heat. They sat smoking and drinking. There was a shared moment of numb horror as the TV prating continued without abating.

“What is the point of these shows?” Magda asked, drawing Mank, and on the cigarette.

“Oh, Christ, I don’t know,’ Wolfenstein offered, passing a heavy hand over his forehead and rubbing his eyes, suddenly weary. “It’s not satire, is it? It’s entertainment, is it? It’s barely humour. Jesters… I don’t know,” he added, genuinely lost for justification. “I used to love this kind of thing, but I just… it just seems to be…” He faltered.

Magda, eyes still narrowed, inhaled at length. She paused while the smoke settled in. “Imagine if all these comedians were writing something with teeth. Is that the right…?” She half turned to Mank. “With teeth, you can say this?”

“Yes. Teeth. Bite.” Mank sucked his gums. “Or no bite. You could say that too.”

“Yes, exactly. No bite. It’s not a psycho killerrr.” She rolled her R for effect. “It is very gummy,” she concluded. The smoke finally made its way back to the surface.

Mank part-turned to face Magda. “Do you have anything like this in Suomi?”

“Suomi.” She corrected his pronunciation with the tenderness of the well-practised. “Neeeeeeeh… not really. Our comedy shows are funny. Also, these kinds of things… maybe…” She tilted her head from side to side. “We’re a lot more politically engaged than you seem to be. This same show would be saying all kinds of shit about the masters of the universe. Not… what is it now?”

The backdrop had changed to read ‘Words You Don’t Want Sports Commentators To Say.”

She held up a palm towards the screen, point proven.

“Shall we watch something else then?” Mank weakly offered.

“No, fuck this. It’s boring. Let’s go and watch someone start a fight in town,” she said decisively, stubbing the cigarette in the glass ashtray on the floor by her ankles. “We’ll get a really big drink somewhere and watch it all kick off.” She sprang from the sofa and arranged her skirt. “Or just have the drink. First thing first.” A brief glance at the screen relayed a pointless score update. Exhaling a pffft, extending a hand, Magda was waiting with fluid movement for Mank to heave himself to his feet. She leaned back slightly, half-turned to the screen as he reached, she pulled and he pivoted upright. Magda gave another shake of the head as she turned back to him, his hand in hers, now face to face. “Your culture.”

A great – and terrible – thing about the internet is that you’re only a few clicks away from complete distraction. Two corners turned from the road you were on and you’re enjoying a coffee in a little speakeasy you had no idea existed. Or suddenly in a park you used to frequent, sat on a bench inhaling the smells of summer and feeling that the universe is a kindly place with designs on making your life good.

Then, like an episode of the Twilight Zone or a book in the Chronicles of Narnia, you rise and return to your original route to discover that hours, days, years have passed and all your friends, family and those you hold dear are ages gone. Time has wasted.

“Civ II. We meet again.”

Lordy. Nearly 10 years ago, I was getting through university with the aid of marathon Civilization II sessions. Attempting to best the Romans, Persians, etc. Developing metallurgy, unleashing barbarian hordes, quelling civil unrest in Laudanum or Boventry (Dear me, such metanerdery… I always liked to give the towns whimsical Pythonesque/Asterixish names). So, in a quick series of links this Saturday last, I found myself sat in Red Lion Square, trying to remember what I’d popped out for. Someone, it emerges, has been sustaining a game of Civ II for 10 years.

Apparently, it all goes wrong. Well, it’s bound to. It strikes me as just a reflection of one’s life when one installs the game.

Reader, I downloaded it. There may, possibly, be something written here in the next few years. I expect it will be “Create entertainers.”

I know I keep saying ‘I’m gonna…’ There’s a running gag in Our House about our friend Anita (‘Anita Writemore…Anita Stopsmoking… Anita Haveabreak-Fromthebooze’) Well, yeah. I’m busy getting on top of lesson planning. It’s a bane of the trainee teacher’s life… This term has been v. tough for me, and I know from talking to m’fellow trainees that they’re all knackered as well. Very challenging work, teaching and thinking about teaching. It don’t come easy. Especially when, as ver Pistols also once observed, you’re a lazy sod.

Yet! Upping my work rate in all areas (Sun in Aries, digits extracted, etc) will see a marvellous cultural flowering here in relatively short order, of course it will. Anyway, short version, I’ve got a couple of blog bits and pieces in progress, should you be interested, so stay tuned.

While that’s germinating, here are my current five favourite RSS Live Links feeds, the material distracting me from adding my own two penn’orth and, indeed, from getting on with planning lessons for Year 9, but also providing inspirations.

In no particular order…

Back Towards the Locus, always interesting and neatly-phrased perspectives on items, from Ben Six. Recently discussing Libya and wrestling.

From Julia Smith in Tokyo, Ten Minutes Hate. Doubleplus good writing on politics, living and working abroad.

The does-what-it-says-on-the-tin celebration of female wordsmiths fuck yeah lady writers!

And a two-way tie between ‘one-stop intellectual surfing experience’ 3 Quarks Daily and Unicorn Chasers Boing Boing.

I’m sure there’s nothing there you didn’t already know about, and it is perhaps equally superfluous to note that there’re lots of other equally inspiring people writing about all sorts, but I’ve been digging these ones in particular. Happy distractions, and I’ll be back after these words from Vygotsky.

Imagine our* surprise on picking up the free newspaper yesterday!

The story made for compelling reading.

*Thanks to J for District Line workshop hysteria and doing the fiddly bit with the image software, among countless other wonderfulnesses. xx