Springingtiger's Blog


Steampunkery and Politics

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Steampunk Superhero’s Cosplay

I think it is fair to say we live in strange and troubling times, what with the decision by the English to turn their back on Europe and drag their neighbours also into a new parochial rejection of the outside world, and the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA who appears also to want to turn his back on the world whilst at the same time plundering its resources. I accept this is somewhat of an over simplification, but the political details are not really my concern here, but rather how people respond to them. I think it is fair to say that that feelings are running high not only in The USA and the UK, but in Europe and throughout the Middle East, look further afield to Africa, Asia and Russia and it looks as if the whole world is on the edge of some sort of emotional cataclysm. So what, if anything, has any of this got to do with Steampunk?

I know that Steampunks like other folk hold political opinions, some are guided by political and religious beliefs so why, when countries are bitterly divided within themselves and from their neighbours, are Steampunks from all around the world still bumbling along together cheerfully? The answer is not ‘Gin’…at least not entirely. I would like to postulate that there are several reasons Steampunk is not dragged into the political morass in which the world now wallows. I have to confess at this point that my reasoning is based upon my observations of British Steampunk, it may be that some countries Steampunk differently, however I suspect that what is true for a British Steampunk is as true for others around the world.

fb_img_1464539054462.jpgThose who know my personal political beliefs to be extremely socialist, republican, and nationalist may find it strange to see me including Scottish Steampunks in the umbrella term ‘British Steampunk’. The truth is that apart from some details of expression there is little to distinguish the attitudes of Scottish Steampunks from their southern neighbours…when in Steampunk mode. And I think that is my first point: Steampunk as a way of thinking occupies a place that is meta to ordinary political thinking. Some Steampunks live in a permanent attitude of Steampunkery, for others Steampunk is more of a cosplay that they put on and off. However as I have said, when in Steampunk mode Steampunks relate to the world differently from other people.

DSCF2074I remember being startled when I realised that in a whole weekend at the Asylum in Lincoln I had heard not one swearword nor a raised voice. There is something about being a Steampunk that induces courteous behaviour. A Steampunk uses politeness like a shield to parry the unpleasantness of the world and wit the blade to return the blow. I will not pretend for one moment that Steampunks do not insult each other, but we do so with wit and humour, perhaps some buffoonery so that there is almost as much enjoyment of defeat as pleasure in victory…when the other side scores a try (or a six) we applaud and enjoy the moment for its own intrinsic artistry. What is saddening about politics at the moment is the depths to which people have sunk in their interactions with each other, people have become nastier, xenphobia, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination and abuse have become commonplace. People have no embarrassment at being caught in a lie. Respect for the rights and opinions of others is no longer considered important or even desirable, there is no place for old fashioned courtesy. Except in Steampunkery where old fashioned courtesy lies at its heart (we do like old fashioned or even an Old Fashioned).

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One might expect a strong conservative streak in Steampunk because of its embrace of old fashioned courtesy and dress. However Steampunk cherry picks what it takes from any era and so while embracing the virtues of the past it rejects its vices. Strong women are very evident in Steampunk circles, frequently armed to the teeth with customised Nerf guns and they’re not afraid to use them! Steampunk is undoubtedly trans cultural as can be seen in its Facebook groups, but also at major Steampunk gatherings that attract attendees from all over the world. Our Glasgow Ubiquitous E. Steampunk Society is not only associated with the Music City Steampunk Consortium of Nashville, Tennessee, but has scheduled a jolly day out with the North East Steampunk Society from England (now that is true internationalism!). I haven’t noticed religion entering the Steampunk conversation except as a costume, we have Steampunk monks with goggles and Victorian Bishops with gaiters at one end and goggles at the other. Given the international nature of Steampunk, I assume that it contains folk of all faiths, but they don’t let it come between them or get in the way of the fun.

Conservatives may not be very evident in Steampunk, but conservation is. Steampunks have a respect for history especially, as the name suggests, for its technology. Nothing sets the Steampunk blood racing more assuredly than polished brass, well oiled pistons, smoothly turning gears, and the ecstatic call of a locomotive whistle. “Ah but,” I hear you say, “Steam engines run on fossil fuels and pump carbon into the air!”…don’t expect a clever argument from me, although I would argue for balance and responsibility. However the Steampunk embrace of steam should be interpreted rather as an embrace of the best of contemporary technology, which in Victorian times was steam. I think we should note that Steampunks are equally enamoured of clockwork. The essential thing about the Steampunk attitude is that technology is employed for the good of society. You may object that Steampunk has its evil villains india94-070and mad scientists with their death rays and killer robots, but they only exist as villains in opposition to the positive technological vision of Steampunk…besides they are playing a role (or possibly over playing in the case of Kenneth Brannagh’s Dr. Loveless) we all come together in the bar at the end of the day. In Steampunk science is treated with respect and so is scientific method and evidence, some (many) of our inventions are fanciful, but they can be so because we are aware of the difference between science and superstition and so are free to play with both. More importantly in Steampunk the urge to conservation manifests itself in an abhorrence of waste, or more accurately a love of recycling and up-cycling. Steampunk is not part of a disposable society; where civilians dispose, we reuse and re-purpose.

I think what sets Steampunk apart politically from much of society is that it is cooperative and sharing. In victory there is little inappropriate triumphalism whether in cosplay competitions or a tea duel…okay there may be a little (I’m not sure ‘little’ is entirely the correct word.) triumphalism in tea duelling, but there’s none of the vicious denigration of the losers that has marked the conduct of Trump supporters and Brexiteers, nor the bitter resentment we have seen from the other side. Steampunks are building a better future for all based on the best of the past and that means magnanimity and mutual support. You will rarely find a Steampunk rubbish someone else’s work, but they will be generous with suggestions for improvement. Steampunks help each other, they share their skills and insights, they encourage each other. I think it is safe to say that wherever you observe someone indulging in selfishness, discrimination, misogyny, xenophobia, abuse, or any form of discourtesy the person you are observing is not a Steampunk. Steampunks are building a future on the foundation of the most noble values of the past. To put things more simply: If they ain’t nice, they ain’t Steampunk! Now it’s Time For Gin!



Newsletter Time Again


Now blogging must be put to simmer gently on a backburner. My writing focus for the next couple of weeks must be upon the editing of the second edition of the Glasgow Ubiquitous E Steampunk Society Newsletter.

What may readers expect this time? Hopefully there will be reports from the Society’s Officers (as yet zero received). There are TWO workshops, one on Steampunk goggle customisation from the Sky Captain, the other a fascinator by Ambika of Sundara Run. A review of what members have been up to over the quarter from Comic Con and acting as extras in July through to MCM in September via  another ‘Walking Workshop’. There will also be a report on the Asylum Steampunk Festival in Lincoln. There are also articles from Karen McKay and Iain Cameron and we have been promised a page of Steampunk humour (no I don’t know what that means either!).
I have a GUESS leaflet signed by all the members of Steam Powered Giraffe to be given away as a prize along with a voucher to spend at our favorite Steampunk stall, but a prize for what? You will have to wait and see or, to put it another way, wait until I’ve set the competition!
I hope the newsletter will be released by the end of October before NaNoWriMo begins in November. So no time to chat, I’d better get on with it!



GUESS Who Was At Rai Con Winter? 

The answer of course, is  GUESS: the Glasgow Ubiquitous E Steampunk Society. The great thing about Rai Con for provincial Steampunks is that it is another opportunity to dress up and raise the profile of Steampunk in Scotland. This Rai Con like the one in spring GUESS hosted a Steampunk Cosplay competition.

I know Rai Con isn’t as big as the MCM Comic Con, but I actually prefer it. It doesn’t have anywhere made as many vendors, nor does it attract such big names, but it has a more intimate and friendly atmosphere. The other thing  I like about Rai Con in common with the Glasgow Comic Con, also held in the Royal Concert Hall, is that it is so much easier to navigate. At MCM we missed things…most things because we didn’t know what was on where. It didn’t stop us having fun, but we might have had more. 

Rai Con is aimed primarily at Manga and Anime fans, many of whom come dressed as characters from their favourite Anime. What makes any Con memorable is above all the cosplayers, both for each other and everyone else. The program is very much aimed at promoting Cosplayand I went to two good panels: Mitch Gardiner on body painting and Nonas talking about wigs. 

Also on the schedule was our Steampunk competition sponsored by Victoriana for the Voluptuous Vixen who had a stall at Rai Con. I had the privilege of judging the competition and it was not easy because there were some great cosplays and outfits to judge. The last winner Mitch Gardiner reprised her ‘Rabbit’ from Steam Powered Giraffe, Iain Cameron another GUESS member’s outfit  featured his own craft work and custom paint work. I was torn, but in the end the prize went to ‘Steampunk’ Sally from Night Before Christmas whose cosplay had taken months of sewing and also featured body paint. However Steampunk is not only cosplay, but is also about a state of mind, a different way of relating to the world. Our two first prize winners so far have been cosplayers so this time we awarded a special prize to someone who is enthusiastically Steampunk and probably deserves a prize for fitting ridiculous numbers of goggles on a bowler hat, two and a half…well two pairs and a Steampunk monocle: Robert Alerdice. If anyone needs a stovepipe hat it’s Robert! 
Glasgow Ubiquitous E Steampunk Society would like to thank the organisers of Rai Con for inviting us to hold the competition as part of a great event, Victoriana for the Voluptuous  Vixen for providing the prizes, the contestants and all those who came to watch. Next time it will be bigger and better just keep an eye on the Rai ConVVVIXEN, and GUESS Facebook pages.



Listening To Corbyn
October 6, 2016, 22:49
Filed under: Health, Justice, Politics, Scotland | Tags: , ,

The problem with the media coverage of Jeremy Corbyn is that it is heavily edited and prevents people getting a holistic view of what the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn stands for. Today, despite being in the middle of a shadow cabinet reshuffle, Corbyn came to Glasgow to deliver the annual Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture.

Jeremy Corbyn’s lecture on ‘Industrial Strategy, a Productive Economy and Secure Jobs.’ demonstrated that Labour has a cohesive and well thought out economic policy that integrates with a whole structure of policies on health, human rights, employment, education and defence. More importantly the lecture showed that Corbyn has a positive vision for the future of the UK within the world, based on solid evidence from around the world.
It was a measured and powerful lecture, short on rhetoric and heavy on content lasting around an hour and followed by questions. Corbyn spoke passionately and unlike most politicians didn’t rely on sound bites and rehearsed formulae, but interacted with his audience and actually answered the questions he was asked. I am not a Labour supporter, but what I saw was a leader with his eyes on victory. 
I am an independence campaigner and an SNP supporter. I don’t think Kezia Dugdale’s Labour provides a threat to the SNP. Teresa May’s Tories are a vote winner for the SNP. But Corbyn? I think Corbyn is the real challenge for all the other parties, he could change the whole balance of UK politics unless his parliamentary party manage to undermine him and drag Labour back to the Neo liberal consensus shared by the Blairites and Tories. On tonight’s showing, and with the support he attracts, I can see Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister.



Sheiky Journalism.

Today the television news seems to be exulting in the conviction of Mazher Mahmood, the Fake Sheikh. Mahmood was the master of the sting a so called journalistic procedure wherein someone is tricked into making damaging admissions to a journalist posing as someone else who then catches the admission on a secret camera. Because Mahmood worked for News Corp it has allowed the News programs to revisit the Hacking Scandal and the Millie Dowler case and make sanctimonious observations about print journalism. There seems to be undisguised delight in the news that Mahmood’s conviction has opened News Corp to some twenty legal suits from those stunr by the Sheikh. If I’m honest it’s a delight I share, but I am less comfortable to see the glee on the part of BBC journalists at dubious practices.

I do not believe journalists should be allowed to break the law as Mahmood did. However for BBC journalists to take such pleasure in the discomfiture of an investigative journalist occurs to me as arising from relief that their journalists are out of the spotlight. For the last few years their news reporting has been under constant fire for its palapable bias in favour of the establishment. They have also been under fire for bias in the picking of panels for programs like Question Time as well as the audiences for the programs. In contrast with Channel Four which has exposed the Tory electoral expenses scandal and unlike the BBC has not ignored the war crimes of our Saudi Arabian allies in the Yemen whereas the BBC agenda in the Middle East has to report on Syria according to the UK and US government’s regime change agenda.

I suppose we should by now expect shortcomings in BBC investigative journalism considering their failure to notice the paedophilia of Jimmy Savile and other BBC celebrities over many years. However that coupled with charges of bias in news reporting has reduced the BBC’s reputation as a news organisation to little better than Fox News or North Korean State television. It is sad that through much of the world people who would once have relied on the BBC and its World Service for their news are turning instead to Al Jazeera. Perhaps more worrying is the number of people in Britain who prefer other news channels including Russian Televisions RT News to the BBC.

What is of concern is the low esteem into which journalism in general has fallen. People no longer trust the mainstream newspapers and media. The more trusted papers include The Morning Star and The National and that’s largely not because of a lack of bias, but because their agenda is upfront and they are honest about their leaning rather than pretending to impartiality. It is the practices of journalism that have destroyed its reputation both online and in print. There is a dishonest selectivity in their selection of what they report, thus Teresa May’s pretending to want to make life better for the ‘working class’ (Am I the only one to notice during her party political broadcast her involuntary head shaking as she made that claim? An indicator she didn’t mean it) was reported while her intention to compile lists of foreign workers in the country (to make it easier to deport them?) was ignored. But to get back to Mahmood at last I have concerns about this easy acceptance of entrapment. A few days ago the news was full of the entrapment of Sam Allardyce by journalists who put the desire for headlines before the success of the English Football Team. I am uneasy because I am not convinced of Allardyce’s dishonesty, but a question was raised by his comments. What concerns me is that people who are not dishonest or criminal, but who are as human as the rest of us, are being tempted into illegality by journalists offering them the possibility of making some extra money. I suspect that some of those entrapped might have never been involved in illegality before the trap. Perhaps there should be an offence of Entrapment for journalists who on trapping a celebrity, politician or whatever are unable to prove demonstrate good cause to suspect the victim of the sting of previous criminal behaviour.



A Grand Day Out.

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Today I visited the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh and had a wonderful time. I only had a few hours to explore the Garden and so I didn’t see all of it. However I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw. Seventy Acres is a lot of garden and it is laid out in such a way that in order to fully appreciate it you have to walk miles and miles of interweaving paths I suspect that even without visiting the glasshouses the RBGE could fill a couple of days.

Amazingly it costs nothing to explore the Garden. Couple this with an Over Sixties Bus Pass and the Royal Botanic Garden provides an opportunity for a very economic day out. Many of the attractions in Edinburgh charge admittance, however there are plenty that are free, in Scotland it is policy to keep admittance to public museums and galleries free. Edinburgh is well served for museums.20161004_105936_hdr

The extensive glasshouses at the RBGE do charge admission, but it is less than six pounds. Avoid the glasshouses and take sandwiches and the day need not cost a penny. However there are three places within the garden to eat: the East Gate Coffee Bar, the Terrace Café beside Inverleith House, and the Gateway Restaurant at the West Gate. If it’s a nice day you could buy a takeaway cup of coffee at the Terrace and then enjoy it sitting on the benches near the House and just enjoy the view of the Edinburgh sky line. Please take your cup back to the Terrace and dispose of it in the recycling bins. Although the gardens are extensive there are four public toilets which can be reached swiftly (it may help to have one of the £1 maps of the Garden to locate the nearest should you need to). Most of the Garden is wheelchair accessible although some few paths are not suitable. I saw people in wheelchairs enjoying themselves.

As well as the free stuff, the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh has a program of events and courses throughout the year. At first glance I thought them a little expensive, however when I divided the cost of a course by the number of its sessions I realised that they represent good value and the Garden is a teaching aid of which few educational establishments could boast. I should perhaps mention that people who join the Friends of the Royal Botanic Garden receive a useful discount on the cost of events and also in the restaurants,

Because nature changes season by season, so does the garden so no two visits will be quite the same. The varied program of events also provides reason to visit repeatedly. There is much more I want to see, so I shall be back taking advantage of my free bus pass.

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Quizzical Minds

 

On Tuesday evenings it is my habit to go to the Admiral Bar in Glasgow for their Pub Quiz. I don’t go just for the quiz, but to meet people and for the entertainment and the best Macaroni Cheese in Glasgow. The Admiral Quiz is a community event with a core of regulars who verge on being friends while doing their damnedest to get one over on each other. However the glue that binds them is a love of quizzing.

I have no idea what the fascination of quizzes and puzzles is, I am sure psychologists may have explanations, but not I. It seems to be part of human nature to solve problems, the realm of literature is well filled with detective novels, but even old folk tales often contain unexplained mysteries. Mathematics as a tool for solving the worlds problems seems to be as old as humankind. Ancient structures suggest a sophisticated grasp of the principles of geometry and astronomy by ancestors that until recently we tended to dismiss as uncivilised. We have always loved riddles. But why do we love puzzling so much?

When we sit and solve sudoku, or whatever, in the paper there is the satisfaction of overcoming the challenge, a pleasure in celebrating the working of our own minds. I think this is part of our motivation for reading detective novels, the need to make sense of our world. It is the same urge that drove philosopher like Socrates and Marx, scientists like Da Vinci and Darwin, and explorers like Shackleton and Scott. The quest for knowledge as a tool to subject the universe to order and reason underlies all human endeavour and is as essential to religion as to science and politics.

Humanity is also inherently competitive and so we compete against each other in quizzes. When I was was young we had shows like Brain of Britain (we still do), Ask The Family, Top Of The Form, and later University Challenge and Mastermind. They can change the format of the shows to give us things like Only Connect and the one I watched for the first time today, Hive Mind, but the underlying principle is all about showing off one’s knowledge. Occasionally there are shows like The Krypton Factor or The Crystal Maze that focus on problem solving, however most shows rely on giving the people to demonstrate their knowledge.

That someone wins a quiz does not mean they are cleverer than their opponents nor that they know more, merely that they knew the answers to a particular set of questions. The quiz team that can ace a picture round on vintage biscuits may well be left floundering when faced with the task of identifying twenty football strips. I think one of the joys of the Admiral quiz is that the variety of questions means that no team wins all the time. It touches on something people too often overlook, that knowledge is not only useful, but that it can, and should, be fun.