mil

I'm a Labour Party member, love the Internet, have worked as a volunteer on OpenOffice.org, am a trained editor, speak Spanish fluently and wish I could speak Croatian. I also find myself thinking, reading, writing, publishing and teaching for a living - and this blog serves to tie together these activities as I try and make sense of the world. I do hope you like some of what you read here - and may even consider leaving a comment or two!

Nov 232014
 
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The Guardian reports the following this afternoon:

Liberal Democrats and civil liberties campaigners have welcomed new measures requiring internet service providers to keep data that identifies online users, but said it must not be seen as a way of reviving the “snooper’s charter”.

The Tory MP and civil liberties campaigner David Davis MP said the measure to link subscribers’ data to specific smartphones, laptops or other devices through their internet protocol (IP) addresses was a sensible change, but that it should not be used as a “stepping stone back to the old snooper’s charter”.

Considering the number of criminals apparently operating within the spheres of politics, security and policing over the years, I’m not sure this is actually the sensible change we’re being told it is.

One thing does occur to me, however – something which I’m sure others will also comment, but which I haven’t yet seen mentioned widely.  An example which happened to me the other day, as an example of what I’m talking about.

Some weeks ago I was cold-called by someone trying to convince me I had a problem with my computer.  It was the same old scammy script as always: “We’re calling about your Windows computer – it looks like it has a virus on it.”  They generally pretend to be phoning on behalf of Microsoft.  And thus it was this time round.  I acted with the caller as I do with Jehovah’s Witnesses, when I forestall their patter by telling them I’m a Catholic – in the case of my computer, the message I transmit is analogous: I only have Linux.  That soon enough frightens them into putting the phone down, way before I need to do the same.

On Thursday, I believe about the same time as the previous occasion, I received a second call with the same approach.  This time, however, the caller claimed to be calling from an ISP – I’ll spare their blushes and not say which.  The interesting thing was that the ISP they claimed to be calling from is actually, really, my ISP.  Whether really, actually, it was my ISP making the call in question is, of course, still under investigation.  They promised to call me back when they had more information.  I’m awaiting that call.

So.  To the bright idea of tying in some database or other users and their devices to specific IP addresses.  Great idea; it’s frequently the case anyway; in fact, if you have a blog with a stats plug-in, you often have a fairly good idea of where many of your readers hail from.  If it’s that easy to know without more complicated tech, it really can’t be difficult for the security forces to be doing the same.

It may, therefore, be that Theresa May’s proposals are little more than a formulating and legalising of current practice out there.

Whatever.

What I’m really worried about is a rather different set of circumstances: imagine that scammy call which claimed to be from my ISP, and which was looking to install a piece of spyware on my computer in exchange for my credit-card details, was made on the basis of customer data sold on by someone who shouldn’t have sold it on to anyone.  Imagine, now, tying specific customers and specific devices to IP addresses becomes evermore common practice, and gets registered and deposited in multiple databases all over: that’s a trail of identity information criminals could use to track, follow and hack very precisely not just into any old objective of random botnet construction but also targeted individuals and concrete profiles.  That governments who we would like to believe are not criminals need to do such stuff is bad enough.  But that the facilitating of such process and procedure makes it easier for the bad guys to do the same … well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

In a sense, we could argue by making more common the practice of matching users with IP addresses, we’re not just allowing our legitimate security services to ensure we’re not doing stuff we shouldn’t – we’re making it easier for criminal elements (whether scandalously within governments or traditionally without) to enter our consequently unprotected homes.

In my ignorance of the matter, all I can see is this: the government, while looking to make the web a better and safer place, is going to be giving the criminals – who, alongside us, clearly co-exist in this virtual world – the already vulnerable keys to our sitting-rooms.

And that really can’t be a good idea, can it?

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Nov 232014
 
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I’ve been variously bemused, perplexed, uncertain and – ultimately – horrified by the revelations which started to come out drip-feed journalism style – and have now become highly publicly-domained information of a strugglingly disorientating nature.

At the last general election, in 2010, the MPs’ expenses scandal cast a long shadow over our already weary relationship with British politics.

Now you’d think that with all the hagiography around the 1980s and Thatcher, and the number of Tories/UKIP supporters who’ve professed to loving the idea of retreading her legacy, there’d be some growing reservations to expressing such self-absorption – particularly in the light of this “paedophile Britain” series of stories.

At the moment I don’t see it happening.  Perhaps discretion is the better part of sincerity.

Anyhow.  I guess I see a pattern emerging.  What I’m not entirely sure about is who benefits.

This is how I see it progressing.  In the period leading up to 2010, expenses trashed our little remaining trust of politicians.  Cameron became visible on his many promises to clean the muck-ridden political stable-yard up.  Conservatives furiously re-branded with lovely logos of strong sustainable English oaks.  We didn’t quite believe him enough to give him a majority, but we did believe him just about enough to allow him to get his hands on a coalition process.

As the Coalition built up steam, it reverted to a Thatcherism of awful resilience; awful porkie-telling; further, deeper and more deadly implementation; and profounder violence against the subjects it was supposed to govern on behalf of.

As this process continued, it reverted even proudly to the 1980s (after all, remember all those – I’m sure sincere – tears shed at Thatcher’s funeral) – and I assume in the light of the recent news mentioned above, without any knowledge whatsoever of what’s now apparently seeping out at the seams.

But someone, some organisation, some people not in the limelight surely did know, all this time, what the legacy of the 1980s was really like.  This hidden scandal of monumental proportions is threatening to overtake the whole agenda of the 2015 general election – in much the same way as Cameron & Co came to power (I shan’t say “won”) an election on the back of the disgraceful after-effects of the expenses shenanigans.

What should’ve been an election run on the basis of the Coalition’s reputation and political behaviours is looking now to become a judgement – maybe ultimately a judgment! – on a political leadership and time which even New Labour seemed to demonstrate a certain respect for.

Who can now respect the 1980s?  Who can now respect Margaret Thatcher’s way of doing things?  Who can now respect her disciples – of which our latterday body politic contains so many?  Who now can respect the British Establishment?

And who, exactly, will all this growing mistrust most serve – perfectly timed, as it is, in the run-up to 2015 and the political change which conceivably will be ours, to redirect our attention away from what should’ve been a referendum on the last four years of tremendous political cruelty?

I don’t know the answer to this question.  I’m scratching my head.  It may be no one benefits – not even the UKIPs of this world.  The vacuum may be complete; the dangers multiplied a thousandfold.  If it took post-First World War Germany to hit Nazism in a decade, perhaps in a 24/7 news-cycle world, four years will be plenty enough.

If you’re wondering whether I’m over-analysing the events (you probably are), just ask yourself the following: why didn’t we find out about all this rubbish in 2009, during the lead-up to Cameron’s arrival at the top and the regime change this implied?

Why was the Coalition given four clear years to lead with a reconverted – more importantly, unbesmirched – Thatcherism?  How differently might life have been – over that period of time – for the working-poor, disabled and unemployed, if this hadn’t turned out as it ultimately did?  And what will happen now 1980s Thatcherism is to be trashed with broad and hugely unpleasant brushstrokes – where will the right-wing Tories and UKIP go; what may end up replacing them; who will ever dare to carry her standard again?

“Paedophile Britain” – it’s a scary, horror-inducing concept.

What’s worse, however, is once revealed, how will an already fragile body politic and culture react before what is clearly a story of foundations-shaking magnitude?

I don’t know about you; personally, I’m very frightened.

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Nov 222014
 
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I used to get pocket money as a kid.  It used to be (the old) sixpence.  It went up to (the new) 5p for a while.  And on my birthday I’d get a number of whatevers which corresponded to my age.

Different times.

Paternal times, obviously.  But not a bad measure in hindsight.

Today we live in other times: a society where we learn to be independent of government.  Not, however, of government’s business sponsors.  On them we become evermore dependent, at the behest of the very same government.

Three examples:

Walmart paternalistically prides itself in the following way on the contributions it makes to assuage hunger:

“In 2013, we donated more than 571 million pounds of food – the equivalent of 369 million meals – to local food banks and hunger relief organizations like Feeding America and its 200 food banks across the nation,” reads Walmart’s website. “We know we can make an impact nationwide by inspiring associates to fight hunger in their local communities. In fact, 4,100 associates volunteered more than 13,000 hours toward hunger relief efforts in 2013.”

Workers, however, respond differently:

“We don’t want your food bins or your bake sales. We work hard and we are not looking for charity. What we want is for you to pay us fair wage … so that we can pay for our own groceries,” said Cantare Davunt, who works part time at Walmart in Apple Valley, Minnesota, earning $10.10 an hour. She walks 20 minutes to work to save money on transportation and lives on ramen.

“I am working as many hours as I can get,” Davunt said. “I had $6 to buy groceries after I paid my bills [last month] – not credit card bills, just bills like electric and heat.” She added, “But even a month of ramen costs more than $6.”

It doesn’t require a soothsayer to see where this is all heading for: what with pre-paid government-sponsored benefit cards dropping money exclusively into the chosen pockets of large companies, it won’t be long before the dependency culture that IDS so vigorously claimed he was looking to remove will simply be shifted sideways:

  1. Paternalistic feelgood actions by transnational corporations with far more dosh than sensitivity will allow them to continue to live off government largesse, in the form of revised processes for welfare systems across the globe which ensure substantial percentages of the money paid out enters their deep pockets in a very 21st century way.
  2. Meanwhile, the working-poor, those who deserve to have the opportunity to work their way out of poverty, much (I would add) in the way IDS originally claimed he was aiming for, will find themselves equally dependent on large private-sector institutions which – quite parasitically – end up continuing to feed off the hierarchy of downtreading and downtrodden thus established.

And in a quite similar end, it’s quite possible that supermarket workers will have to go monthly, cap very much in hand, with their state-administered pre-paid benefit cards – in order to redeem their continued poverty-stricken dependences at the crumb-distributing tables of their very own auto-enriching employers.

Pocket money redefined for the 21st century.

An awful sleight-of-hand indeed.

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Nov 222014
 
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Are UKIP and the BBC made for each other?

The BBC has recent documented form: the NHS privatisation process was summarily ignored by its journalists.  We outside the BBC assume this is due to a deliberate and intentioned act of conspiracy – maybe, charitably, fear of a mauling at the hands of the Daily Mails of the world too – which leads most of them to act as one.

But what if it was the web itself which provided the railway tracks that defined the journey not only BBC journalists are taking but, more and more, all journalists who use this interconnected marvel?

Take a look at the following screenshot – or at least how it was rendered by the BBC website this morning when I first browsed there (the missing facts are, in fact, now completely missing!).

Reckless BBC factoids

As you can see, we have in a bulleted list “Fact 1″ and “Fact 2″ – but nowhere are the blessed beasts themselves to be found.

A slip of the virtual pen, clearly.  But in its slip, it reveals how stories are put together: an intro in bold, an overview paragraph, a pair of factoids designed to build up and support one position or t’other (in this case I presume Nigel Farage).

Isn’t it so easy to choose to follow the crowd; to accept received opinion; to confect a reality as per the framework the website template provides?

And wouldn’t it be even easier to ensure – by way of self-interested template design – that one’s workforces did just that?

No need for conspiracy.  No need for dark deeds.  The guarantees of charismatic leadershipobedience without ownership – multiplied a thousandfold wherever a content management system was present.

Maybe it’s not the BBC journalists we should be raging at after all.

Who knows?  Maybe, again, it’s the machine-to-machine web that’s slowly encroaching on all our decision-making, perceptions and humanity.  Maybe that’s what’s at fault.  And maybe such a web of trammelled truths is precisely why the UKIPs of the world are hitting their mark.  Prejudice lends itself to unquestioning repetition: what is a website template if not the CSS of reality?

____________________

Update to this post: further reading has just come my way.  This talk by Emily Bell says lots of lovely things.  Worth reading in full, here are some excerpts which caught my eye:

  • “To have our free speech standards, our reporting tools and publishing rules set by unaccountable software companies is a defining issue not just for journalism but the whole of society.”
  • “The fourth estate, which liked to think that it operated in splendid isolation from other systems of money and power, has slipped suddenly and conclusively into a world where it no longer owns the means of production, or controls the routes to distribution.”
  • “Of course, every algorithm contains editorial decisions, every piece of software design carries social implications. If the whole world connects at high speed in 140 characters it changes the nature of discourse and events.”
  • “If there is a free press, journalists are no longer in charge of it. Engineers who rarely think about journalism or cultural impact or democratic responsibility are making decisions every day that shape how news is created and disseminated.”
  • “Every time an algorithm is tweaked, an editorial decision is being made.”
  • “If Facebook can nudge your emotions towards happiness or sadness by manipulating what you see, can it use obscure algorithms to influence something more sinister, such as, for instance, the way we vote?”
  • “[…] In order to preserve our role in any robust way, we must stop relying solely on the tools and platforms of others and build our own.”

And the conclusion of so much concentrated intelligence?  Yes.  Precisely that most socialist of ideas: design, build and own the means of production!

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Nov 212014
 
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I read this evening that UKIP plans to choose the next government.  Meanwhile, also this evening, President Obama tells us:

Part of the reason why America is exceptional is that we welcome exceptional people.

Two of my three children are looking to go and make their lives in the US.  I don’t know if they will be successful, but what I do know is that they don’t want to continue living in the UK.  They are Spanish by both birth and nationality, and have done good by the English education system – but the culture they find here is tired and, of late, even offensive.

My third child isn’t keen on the US for several sensible and statistically undeniable reasons; equally, however, neither do they want to spend the rest of their life in the country I was born in and used to treasure dearly.

When I was living a mid-life crisis in Spain during 2002-2003, all I dreamed of was going to New York or Massachusetts or somewhere cool like that to forge a different future for my family.  It was furthest from my unhappy mind to return to Britain at all.  Maybe those times have influenced my children.  Or maybe other things have really affected their judgement.

Either way, with Farage & Co’s fingers on this sleazy disuniting country’s buttons of despair, I can’t help seeing plenty of damn good reasons which justify my kids’ perceptions, whether objectively fair or not.

After all, who’d want to live in a country where a minority of prejudiced wealthy white males were in a position to impose their worldviews by hook or, indeed, crook on two ancient political parties with supposedly long, durable, coherent and honourable traditions?  Who’d want to stay in a country where a person’s origin was used as a tool to lever power on the backs of equally fearful – equally cowardly – conservative and progressive politicians?  Who’d want to live in the presence of a suppurating cauldron of dishonest politicking, as the most working-class of our citizens were ultimately used by all the political elites as the kind of figurative cannon fodder their blessed First World Wars would’ve welcomed with open bayonets?

Who, now, ever, never, would want to migrate to #UKIPingdom?

Only one thing.  To my grand surprise, I feel great sadness that my children don’t love half their legacy as I used to; that they have never had the clear opportunity to do so, for one reason or another; and that now they have all too many opportunities to point out with careful, reasoned arguments Farage & Co’s petty – and casually cruel – fascisms.

Even as those who in my youth – on both ends of the political spectrum – defended and sustained the values that forged a common repulsion of Nazism and all its works, Communism and all its cruelties, and socialism and all its finally foolish expectations.

So where are these statesmen and women I mention to be found any more?  Where are these ordinary folk, these community leaders, these political activists, these public figures … these individuals who fought in different ways – but to a common end – to permanently vanquish the casual petty cruelties which Farage & Co’s fascisms now aim to resuscitate?

Damn it.

Damn it.

Damn it again.

If you lot – you professional politicos, you supposed enablers of democratic discourse – care more about a tweet of flags and white vans than this “going down a societal plughole” of the #UKIPingdom I mention, then I may indeed find myself eventually obliged to give up on ever convincing you otherwise – but what I shall never give up on attempting is this proving to my children that England is a place of historical grandeur, particular wisdom and beautiful inhabitants worth their sympathy, defence and – yes – pride.

The England I remember, the England I loved, is not the #UKIPingdom my kids have every right to despair of.  If the First World War was the battle of my great-grandparents’ generation, and the Second World War the battle of my grandparents’ generation, and the Cold War the battle of my parents’ generation, today, right now, this minute I write, the sleazy disuniting #UKIPingdom is the battle of all our current generations.

Our democracy has never represented us more poorly than these past four years.  And though they claim to be a silent majority, in a free, democratic and liberal society only the suspiciously motivated prefer to be so silent in their majority.

Whilst liberal democracy … well let that, once again, be all the motivation we ever need.

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Nov 212014
 
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They’ve been saying that social media would win the next general election.  What they really meant was that social media would lose the next general election.

As I pointed out in my previous post, we now have a society where the first thing which occurs to us is to focus (generally in an unkindly way) on individuals – not just in the feminist contexts already recently described but in politics, current affairs and celebocracy more widely too.

In truth, at least for me, with memories of the Militant faction still surprisingly fresh in my political brain, whilst Militant itself was constrained by the two-party system, and probably felt – at least at the beginning and as a result – that entryism into Labour was its only practical alternative, UKIP has quite a different panorama to deal with.

In a world where coalition instincts, political flux and backroom deals which welch on election promises become quite normalised, UKIP has realised that entryism’s dynamics lend themselves to reversal.  Perhaps a little like the SDP in its time – a dynamic which none of us misses any more, and which in much of what it tried to do looked to peel off waverers from Labour by promoting and lionising impulses to rank disloyalty.


“Centre party chooses new name”

And even as Tory complacency seems to be the order of the day, the Militant of 2014 is doing its job.  Whether UKIP ends up as 2015 Coalition partner to the Tories or not, the Tories short-lived rebranding of its nastiness will be long forgotten where not deliberately vanquished.  And whether Farage ends up in person ruling the roost of British politics or not, his legacy, what the Tories and Labour both are becoming, will surely reign over the dreadful landscape the UK is reverting to.

Where Militant infected Labour’s organism like an awfully debilitating political virus, UKIP acts more like an apple in the politicised Gardens of Eden we’re inhabiting these days.  Its attraction is bright and shiny, even red, green and dissonantly blue on occasions – but, at the same time, its centre is rotting to the core our once shared senses and sensibilities.

That Emily Thornberry should casually tweet unhappy petty prejudice is part of the problem, but not all of it.  More unhappy is the fact that under New Labour, a militant tendency (where not the Militant Tendency) remained throughout the nation.  The pressure cooker of the politically correct only served for many to ape attitudes they didn’t actually believe in.

The problem isn’t only that our politicians – as representatives and enablers of democratic process – refuse to shoot from the hip.

The problem is that we – as voters and participants in democratic process – have got used to not shooting from the hip ourselves.

No one, neither professional nor professed, is in the game of truth any more.  If, indeed, they ever were.

And that, precisely that, is why social media’s going to change nothing; why it’s going to continue perpetuating this long-time destructive instinct of British politics: that is to say, the instinct to decide elections not on the basis of what people believe in and proclaim but on the basis of what they are ashamed of and only ever let slip.

And in this way, UKIP – the Tory Militant of 2014 – have discovered the future before the rest of us: you win elections by telling people exactly what they believe the silent majority around them are already thinking.  It’s not that most of us really do believe such rubbish – the dynamic is something quite different to that.  What UKIP – the Tory Militant of 2014 – are doing is playing on our fears that a political avalanche will overtake us and leave us stranded.

This is not the dynamic of coalition democracy.

This is, rather, the anteroom of serious civil conflict.  Perhaps a curiously low-level and particularly 21st century war of a civil nature.

UKIP don’t say: “Believe and follow!”

UKIP, instead, ask: “Are you with us or are you against us?”

And where have we heard that before?

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Nov 192014
 
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This article by Julie Bindel, published yesterday on the Guardian newspaper’s website, is interesting.

Certain caveats beforehand (I don’t want a storm of unhappy responses): I’m a man, so like the English in the Scottish referendum, I honestly get the feeling that I have little right to hold an opinion here; also, I get most of my understanding of the world from social networks these days – and if that’s not an example of mediated media, then I don’t know what is.

Mind you, I stopped tweeting at my previous Twitter account, @eiohel, precisely because the heavy weight of so much of that timeline was just too much for my delicate soul to deal with.

So I reverted to the backwater that is @zebrared.  And here I am.

All by-the-by; but also in the way of an explanation for what follows.

A couple of choice phrases from the article linked to above (the bold is mine):

  • “The current climate of McCarthyism within some segments of feminism and the left is so ingrained and toxic that there are active attempts to outlaw some views because they cause offence. Petitions against individuals appear to be a recent substitute for political action towards the root causes of misogyny and other social ills. Petitions have taken over politics.

I’d also argue that personalities have taken over almost everything else.  I’ll explain this assertion later.

More choice phrases (again, the bold is mine):

  • It would appear we have forgotten how to target institutions. The tactic du jour is to wind up a crowd and shut down any nuanced discussion or debate. Patriarchy is being left to its own devices while bad and unpalatable men are being taken to task one by one.”

And finally (the bold my doing once more):

  • “We built this movement on a desire and willingness to question and challenge old assumptions and truisms. We are in danger of becoming autocrats who would rather organise a pile-on than try to change systems. The life blood of feminism is in danger of becoming bile.”

To be honest, I don’t think this is a symptom of decay in feminism.  Or, at least, not just feminism.  The malaise is infecting far more areas of our society than that.  Those of us who affect more than a glancing interest in politics – and as inveterate bloggers, what’s more, a politics which once proudly proclaimed the personal as political – have, paradoxically, long bemoaned the importance of personalities in latterday political discourse to the exclusion of what we variously argue as being the far more relevant matters of policies, the grassroots, party activists, even ordinary voters and their communities.  We’ve had plenty of examples too: one clear one from my own party, Labour.  Whilst Tony Blair reigned over the movement, most of its incongruences seemed well hidden, papered over, perhaps (at least on a good day) non-existent.  As soon as Gordon Brown came to power, the personal contrasts couldn’t have been more marked: almost overnight, the Party started coming apart at the seams of what practically seemed a bogeyman’s sack.

So.  That a certain kind of feminism (the type that targets institutions and structures with thought, wit and accuracy) should become contaminated with the celebocracy of generations brought up on reality shows too numerous to mention – and when I say reality shows, I also mean current affairs programmes which prefer to invite the notorious instead of the informed, any ratings-pursuing day – is, actually, hardly surprising.  The petition-itis mentioned is but another symptom of such a focus on notoriety.  And what in our civilisation is more notorious and worthy of comment than the downfall of an individual – any individual, famous or infamous for whatever it might be – whose misfortune, stupidity or plain rank idiocy allows us to breathe quite relieved that “But for the grace of God, go I …”?

The vicarious thrill of experiencing the fear, riding the rollercoaster and escaping the condemnation was never more apparent.

If the Guardian‘s “Comment is Free” article is anywhere on the button (and I revert to my early caveat – I don’t as a relatively privileged upper-middle-aged man even know whether I have a right to type these words), then feminism – the kind that deconstructs a patriarchy which surely incarcerates us all, whether woman or man – has fallen foul of the instincts described in my post this evening.  In celebrating the importance of the individual, in underlining that every woman, child and oppressed soul matters, we have slipped slowly, silently, sneakily and ultimately over the no-man’s land that lies between a kind, generous, inclusive individualism on the one hand and, on the other, that starstruck, nasty, almost fascist celebration of media-generated idols which Chris Dillow at “Stumbling and Mumbling” has recently been exposing.

It’s sad, bad and very wearisome.  But it’s far far worse, this McCarthyism we perceive, this state of play we experience, this degeneration into lynch-mob behaviours … when perceived, experienced and observed in fields of thought we thought impervious to such influences.

Today, I read with horror that a quarter of all British people questioned want migrants to leave Britain.  (That means a quarter of the people I walk past every day want four-fifths of my family to leave the nation I was born in.)  Then I see my political party reacting with words of consolation for such philosophers of the human condition, and wonder, really, how on earth we got here.

If the touchstone of early 21st century feminism now believes it’s in crisis and has problems … well, surely it’s time we all believed the same: wherever we stand; whatever gender, belief system or century we feel we occupy; however we look at the world that cruelly fails us.

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Nov 182014
 
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Both talk and policies about wealth are terribly repetitive.  Whilst right-wing parties still pretend to attribute a mysterious force to the idea of trickle-down economics – you know, the stuff where rich people get so rich that the crumbs which fall from their tables acquire a mystical power to raise the poorest satisfactorily from rank to relative poverty – the left-wing of at least our political spectrum doesn’t half engage with the idea of taking money away from the wealthy.  And when I say “take money away” I mean not only lots of it but also almost any way possible.  Consequently, the higher that level of wealth, the more punitive, aggressive and intrusive the measures to control it must be.

So.  That’s why I’m beginning to wonder if the problem isn’t elsewhere; if the problem isn’t on both sides of the argument – and principally the assumptions people are making.

What is wealth, after all?  I remember reading a long time ago a book about the newspaper mogul, Robert Maxwell.  Apparently his life of wealth was more a game of musical chairs: he didn’t own very much of “his” wealth; instead, he apparently had access to a great deal more of what we might term “other people’s resources” than perhaps he should ever have been allowed to.  Yet at the time his empire strode the world, most would’ve seen him as wealthy: a man to be heavily taxed for sure; a man to be punitively intruded upon as already described.

And so we have policies such as the “mansion tax”, currently issuing forth from the Labour Party.  If you own a house (or maybe if you occupy one which you have mortgaged to the hilt), and valued to a certain degree, under a Labour administration you will have to pay an annual tax on the societal cost of your possessions.  If you like, this is probably little more than the “bedroom tax” in reverse – except we’re looking to apply it to the very richest instead of the rather poor.

Maybe, as such, it’s fair enough as an example of rumbustious politicking – but it doesn’t half seem (to me, at least) an arid and sterile act of policymaking, which positions – as in a predictable mirror-image that only serves to allow the enemy to continually define you – the Labour Party in no better place intellectually than the government it aims to vanquish.

Is this all wealth can manage to be?  Is this about as imaginative as we can get?  Do progressives have to be eternally framed by arguments their oppositions use against them?  After all, it must be awful for anyone who professes to be of the open-minded and thoughtful left for people to say the following about you – and not only say it once but repeat it heavily over the decades:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy” #QOTD

There are I suppose two alternatives:

  1. Aim to spread wealth equally so we are similarly poor or similarly well-off (always depending, I suppose, on where you’ve started out and where you’ve found yourself ending up) – I can imagine that here a) taxation systems would play a big part in attempting to achieve this goal; and b) universal basic incomes could also contribute constructively to its implementation.
  2. Aim to allow concentrations of wealth only where and when value is demonstrably added over time.  We would not stop being punitive about the kind of concentrations which just have rich people sitting on their wealth; we would however reward any and all concentrations which allowed us to achieve wider societal goals that Parliament, a bespoke tribunal of the people or any other democratic process could design.

What kind of societal goals could those be?  In no order of importance, then – just as they trip out of the ideas-generator:

  • Dignified, humanly fulfilling and educationally expanding work.
  • Inclusive organisational patterns of relationships, at all community, corporate and political levels.
  • A re-establishment of that liberal bond between responsibilities and rights.
  • An intuitive openness in governance in all kinds of institutions, so that honesty, sincerity and informed debate are to be prized and held dear above all.
  • Profit to be understood primarily as that which benefits the whole of society, and only secondarily the interests of more traditional investors.
  • A careful appreciation, development and implementation of technology, with the aim of putting it at the service of people and not the other way round.
  • A sustainable approach to all our environments – whether natural or human-made.
  • Ultimately, an evidence-based approach to all kinds of decision-making processes – even as the plethora of information available these days should not freeze our collective ability to take such decisions in a timely manner.

I may not be the best person to argue these things;  I may not have the most visible soapbox; I haven’t even developed the idea in any implementable way; and yet, even so, with all these caveats, what I do suggest we in Labour should engage with from now on in is thinking far more imaginatively about the whole idea of wealth and its functioning.

There’s no room in the future for the kind of politics which glories in weary gesture-making.

The future’s too serious by far for that.

Until we accept that grand things can sometimes be achieved by putting large, perhaps at first sight obscene, amounts of money in the hands of a single organisation or deserving hub of organisations, and that sometimes by so doing a helluva lot of wasted time and energy will result, we will not be able to win over what so many voters will always intuitively comprehend: money begets money, and often in a tremendously multiplying way.

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Nov 182014
 
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Paying taxes is essential for forging a solidarity society.  It goes without saying – though I shall repeat it anyhow: in times such as these it would seem many deliberately neglect to remember the issue – that without taxes, we would have even more homeless; even more working-poor; even more people choosing between fuel and food; even more slowly bankrupting sick; even more uneducated and illiterate fellow citizens.

But what happens when the government in power is using our hard-won taxes to deliberately shift and transfer from the public sphere the public wealth that taxes create?  What happens when the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition that we currently suffer intentionally looks to reward its business sponsors for their continued support by stealthily privatising the NHS, schools, Legal Aid (where they care to leave it standing – if standing and not stumbling is the word), policing and prison services – and Lord only knows what else?  What do you do – how should you respond – when you discover large companies negotiate special tax breaks and deals various with government agencies – all at the cost of the taxpayer?

What happens – and how should politically sensitive, sensible and coherent voters like ourselves react – when we feel our taxes should be used to support our less-well-off partners in society (the aforementioned poor, unemployed, sick and disabled) … taxes we’d be only too happy to pay if the circumstances were such … and yet in truth we discover such taxes are being used to do little more than swell the greedy coffers of corporate capitalism?

What options do we have?  Do we have any?  In a society like this, how exactly must thinking, thoughtful, considerate, law-abiding subjects decide to act?

For by paying our taxes dutifully as we have to, with governments like the ones we labour under, we are simply feeding the share prices of the world.  And with so much human poverty swilling about, this surely can’t be right.

Can it?

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Nov 172014
 
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Miranda Keeling does Twitter brilliantly.  This example today got me thinking:

Woman in a train station: Look, McDonald’s, next to Starbucks, next to KFC. I feel so proud of humanity right now I could go live in a cave.

And I am just as bemused myself.  From search engines like Google to corporate capitalism like the trio mentioned above, choice seems more to make us lose the courage of our convictions than inform our ability to make considered decisions.

So is decision-making not hard-wired into human DNA?  Were we only (are we only) a decisive species when the choices available became few and far between?  Is this why in times of relative peace and tranquillity we apparently revert to a weird and difficult indecisiveness – unable, as we seem to be, to move energetically forward on almost anything?

And is war, human conflict and how we behave during such violence, actually not a result of our innate warlike tendencies but, rather, a result of the closing-down of options and alternatives – in a sense a liberating closing-down?

In the absence of choice, we have no alternative (literally!) to being decisive: the decisions are taken for us by the very absence of distracting other routes and ways.

It’s been said before I’m sure: the consumer in presence of little alternative is a much happier student of life.  You waste far less of your time on trying to come to a conclusion to purchase; you spend far more of your time thinking about conclusions really worth reaching.

Yet, in amongst all the relative confusion of the aforementioned, and even its apparent irrelevance, there is a serious and difficult point to be considered: what if this ever-increasing losing of the courage of our convictions – this growing inability to say, communicate, exchange or write down without first incessantly doublechecking the veracity of what we think we can remember against its actual reality – has long-term implications for the future of all human beings?

If capitalist choice is making us unable to say, do or act in any context without tremendous self-doubt invading our souls (will it – should it – be McDonald’s, Starbucks or KFC?  And if one or t’other, what kind of burger with what kind of sauce; what kind of coffee with what kind of snack; what bargain deal with what kind of dessert; in short, what kind of fast food kick will it be this time?), what does this mean for the integrity of our thought – for the ability humanity needs to be able to move forward with confidence into the unknown?

Surely this strangling – almost at birth by now – by (what we might term) “grand-choice capitalism” … this strangling I say of how we perceive and form opinions of our selves; of how far we can advance by treading sure-footedly on ground which is objectively anything but sure … well, it can hardly help us look to the future with the brashness, bravura and courage we need; the brashness, bravura and courage we’ve displayed, in fact, in the best moments of our collective histories.

Something’s going very wrong here.

Something’s gnawing away at individuals’ abilities to stand on their own two feet; to talk from their own soapboxes; to express their own positions; to declaim their own thoughts; to be fully, concisely and decisively different from all their fellow men, women and children.

Something quite terrible.

Something, we might say, abysmal.

Abysmal … as in “abyss”.

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Nov 162014
 
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Eric Joyce MP wrote a very clever piece yesterday, with the aim (I think) of deconstructing Ed Miliband’s current manifestation of Labour.  I’d like to try and do the same with this clever piece, in the forty minutes before I start my next online English class.

Here are some of the things he says, interspersed with some of own observations:

Joyce: Labour’s pitch at the moment is that everything in this country is screwed. I’m sort of reluctant to accept that, given that if everything were screwed it would surely have taken more than 4 years for it all to become screwed – wouldn’t it? I mean, screwing everything in 4 years would be an absolutely world-class effort and I really don’t think we can credit the Tories with anything world-class at all. So I’m left with the sneaking suspicion that ‘everything is screwed’ might also be aimed, subtly, at the 13 years of New Labour government which preceded the 4 years of Tory government.

Me: If Labour was saying everything was screwed, then politics, democracy, business and community would be screwed for just about everyone.  As it is, what’s screwed is not – for everyone – these four hoarsepersons of the econopocalypse as such but, rather, for a far too significant minority.  If Joyce is happy to argue they’re operating equitably for quite a few people, so demonstrating they’re not really screwed as Labour says, then we need to agree to disagree.  That these four hoarsepersons always work fine for the well-to-do should mean our politics gets out of the habit of congratulating itself when the stats demonstrate little more than this.

And whilst we’re on the subject, I don’t think anyone outside New Labour should reasonably argue it screwed everything:

  1. It put the roofs back on public services.
  2. It brought a kinder neo-liberal approach to much of our economics, even to the point where some argued it was a sort of socialism by stealth.

Screwed, however, was:

  1. The strategy of PFI for putting those roofs back on those public services, and which is now enabling all kinds of horrible behind-the-scenes privatisation deals in, particularly, the NHS.
  2. Tuition fees, which brought us unnecessarily to the top of the Coalition slippery slope of violently increasing the indebtedness of people at the beginning of their adult lives.

And meanwhile, positively ugly was:

  1. Going into Iraq, without a post-invasion plan.
  2. Promoting all kinds of faith, academy and foundation schools, without thinking through the splintering future implications.
  3. Not taking on people like Murdoch and News of the World, even as something must have been known – at least by those in the know!

So New Labour was great at putting back together Thatcher’s spilt milk, but it left untouched – even moved on – her privatising and corporate-market instincts.

Joyce: The only other way of understanding ‘everything is screwed’ is that democracy is a zero-sum game and when people healthily exercise their right to change the party/ies of government then any good stuff which went before gets negated. Unless, of course, ‘everything is screwed’ is designed as a counsel of despair encouraging us to question the value of democracy itself?

Me: Read this and then come back to me on this matter.  Either something very horrible happened many years ago, something New Labour failed to address (way after the event of course, when it should’ve and maybe could’ve) – or someone/something is now deliberately destabilising democracy with even creepier manoeuvres designed to do just as Joyce says.  But I doubt it’s the current Labour leadership which is driving this creepiness forwards, and I doubt it has anything to do with a wider Party strategy to criticise everything and anything.

Joyce: [There’s a very good bit next on the complicated implications of the so-called mansion tax – you need to read this because here I do have to agree it makes a lot of sense.  Though aiming to screw the rich who buy “mansions” ordinary people would no longer be able to afford anyway – what with the savagely rising costs of living which London is manifesting already – is quite a bit better than not screwing them at all. – Editor]

Joyce: So, let’s see, this is the plan up one of Labour’s sleeves. Place at the centre of the general election an increase in NHS expenditure funded (even although the sums don’t add up) by having regular middle-class folk move out of London in order to be replaced by much richer folk from overseas; promise the Scots – almost none of whom will pay the new tax – that the folk actually paying the tax will have no say whatever in how that money is spent in Scotland. And for good measure ensure that the Scots, who may well hold the balance of UK power after the election, can have all the say they like when it comes to telling the English mansion tax payers how their tax pounds must be spent. Meanwhile, imply that everything is screwed because all the UK-wide parties have made things that way.

Me: The bit about the NHS is horrible.  If the sums don’t add up, and Joyce must know because that’s his business to do so, at the very least he should say:

  1. Labour is over-promising here because it doesn’t want to explain the reality.
  2. I, however, am prepared to explain the reality: people, even under Labour, will die over the next few years where in other times, pre-credit crunch, pre-austerity and pre-whatever-you-want they wouldn’t have.  Partly because even Labour doesn’t know how to do the numbers; partly because it’s no longer the business of politics to enable life for the vast majority of the far less-well-off.

Or maybe the pressure of having to give a class at six o’clock is pushing me to being terribly unfair.

*

Just a piece of advice to the realistic politicians out there (and I say “realistic”, I promise you, without a smidgen of irony): don’t forget that the far less-well-off are living horrible lives at the moment – not because there isn’t enough dosh swilling around out there but, rather, because it’s uselessly concentrated without a productive use being made of it.  To focus on saying the sums don’t add up is to give weight to the arguments of all wealth concentrators.

Instead, I suggest, we make a list of what needs to be done.

And then do the sums in such a way that what needs to be done, can be done.

That, I think, is what’s behind Labour’s current strategy (even if, sometimes, of late and before, it’s not as clear as a politically professionalised approach should be able to make it).

That, and not some evil knife in the back of three grand election victories – victories which Blairites have every right to be proud of.

So a final thought: all yous New Labour souls – so sensitive with your our history, perhaps understandably so, perhaps reasonably so – do try and remember what it was like not to have the advantages New Labour demonstrably delivered to a large majority of the country.  For not having those advantages has returned in four short years to far too many of our fellow citizens.

And this is precisely because the Tories haven’t been incompetent at all.  Over those four short years I mention, they’ve sneakily used the cloak of incompetence to fool the very best political, scientific, medical, legal and educational minds, in order that they be allowed to continue dismantling practically everything constructive the UK represented.

Labour hasn’t been battering its collective head against Blair & Co since 2010 – nor is it doing so at the moment.  In the light of this Tory competence, still unacknowledged from a strategic point of view, it has far more important things to do than that.

That’s what it’s been doing – and what it continues to need to do.  Give it the credit it deserves.

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Nov 152014
 
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In 2012, I concluded:

Capitalism is seen as light-of-touch because it’s an inevitable process towards an injustice it has no need to question.  It doesn’t really acquire a baggage of ideas because ideas aren’t its purpose.

Meanwhile, socialism is dogma-ridden because it’s a discipline of thought which both cares and dares to question not only that injustice but many others out there.

We may eventually need both, of course – I’m not suggesting that might not be the case.  But I do wonder if it is right to position them as mirror images of the other.  It’s both inaccurate in the case of capitalism as well as manifestly unfair in the case of socialism.

Yesterday, however, I was of a different mood altogether:

Know it’s conspiratorial, & infirm, to suggest #austerity is a globally coordinated plan. But if it isn’t, humanity’s discovered telepathy!

Or demonstrated the existence of synchronicity. Or Gaia. Or something.
#austerity

Anyhow. If 20th century Communism had managed to engineer an #austerity on the scale we have it, we’d say it was deliberate and systemic.

But since its 21st century capitalism that’s doing the #austerity, we see it as random consequences of cyclical inevitability. Weird really.

& anyone who says that #austerity is coordinated is immediately typed as paranoid.
At least in the Cold War, paranoia was a virtue.
<sighs>

And so I suggested, earlier in the day, that:

In the end, the three steps as described above reposition our leaders, both political and business, in roles of great power and immense hierarchy over the ordinary folk: the paradox being that whilst independence is being savagely preached in public discourse, in truth the reality has reimposed a grand and terrible dependence of almost everybody on pyramidal structures we thought once well-vanquished long ago.

Instead of the broadly accepted randomness and essential unpredictability of capitalism-infused structures, we get me imposing agency in that almost paranoid way I describe.

Maybe I am paranoid; maybe that’s what unrelenting years of relative poverty do to one.  But again, I would point you in the direction of who benefits (even at the risk of being accused of ever-increasing levels of paranoia!): if someone, some group, some coordinated interests were globalising austerity as I suggest, wouldn’t it also be in their interests to suggest all normal-thinking people consider it random?

Alternatively, we could posit the possibility that 21st century corporate capitalism is so like 20th century Communism in its highly centralised economic structures (just run far far more efficiently, and with tools that lend themselves to such efficiencies) that perhaps we’re not describing a world where free-market capitalism won the day – and consequently it’s fair, now (that is to say, not at all paranoid), to believe those economic structures mostly act as one.

Furthermore, we have the West’s view of oppressive regimes such as North Korea, where agency, intentionality and malice in the drive to a wider societal austerity are – quite rightly, quite accurately – attributed on a daily basis.  But where all three of the latter exist (ie that agency, intentionality and malice I describe), it would be disingenuous to argue they could be satisfactorily combated by Western alliances without one – oneself – exhibiting and acquiring at least aspects of the same characteristics.

No?

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Nov 142014
 
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These three tweets retweeted into my timeline this morning have caught my eye.  They attribute the following statements to Channel 4’s economics editor, Paul Mason – mainstream (if fairly independent and questioning) media to boot.  And they run as follows:

“We’re trapped inside neo-liberalism” says Paul Mason, Economics Editor, Channel 4 News.

#futureshock

If I was to form a party, it would have two core tenets, says Paul Mason:

1. Kill neoliberalism
2. Move beyond capitalism

#futureshock

I’d nationalise all grids, all networks. And bring in universal basic income; a subsidy for moving to a non-work economy—Mason #futureshock

Now if someone like Mason can be saying, publicly, stuff like this – fairly revolutionary stuff in the context of so much unchallenged austerity (or if not unchallenged, at least untoppled) – what must be going on behind the Bilderberg scenes?

Let’s just take apart the trajectory of austerity: a very old childhood friend of mine once explained to me how they’d been told the 2008 crisis was deliberately triggered.  At the time, I dismissed this as conspiracy baloney (without saying I did), but to be sure this crisis didn’t half come in handy.  Ordinary people were becoming wealthier; leisure time was being dedicated to ever-growing active participation (or meddling, depending on your point of view) in democratic process (as well as cut-price holidays to all corners of the world!); citizens in general were getting a taste for the better times, both culturally and more importantly economically.  Salaries were rising; demands for decent, dignified working conditions becoming more widespread … all in all, life was getting hard for those top capitalists amongst us of a lazy bent (not by any means the majority, of course; but perhaps far more than a minority if we define them in terms of the riches they lever).

So 2008 was a great excuse to empty hard-earned savings from the pockets of the reasonably ordinary – the ones really to be feared in times of significantly peaceful disruption.  (The extremists are never a problem: it’s easy, rightfully so, to get people to side against them.  But the people you should never keep your eyes off are the decent, thoughtfully silent majorities.)  By emptying such savings, we were emptying peace of mind.  And by emptying peace of mind, we were emptying the ability of most to react creatively before the war that the elites were about to wage on them.

‘Question, naturally, is: why wage a war on your own people?  Why, in a supposedly liberal economy, would you want to destroy the ability of your customers to continue buying your products and services?

I suggest two or three reasons to explain austerity’s implementation:

  1. In times of crisis such as these, when markets splinter and smaller units of production begin to attack existing interests, it’s normal for the latter to want to neutralise the dangers.  I’m not attributing evil motivations here; I can understand, from my irrelevantly tiny experience as a businessperson myself, what drives people into – and keeps them within – what we might term the jungle of capitalism.  So austerity is a perfect tool to put into place a siege: a process of attrition, if you like, which only the biggest can survive.
  2. The second step is to argue that people must become independent of the state, so as not to occupy the role of scroungers who live off society (this also, partly, with the objective of distracting us from the reality that large organisations and transnational corporations are anything but independent of their political sponsors).  And whilst all possibility of being independently and sustainably employed has been progressively eliminated by step 1, as described above, and all possibility of feeling decent about being dependent on the state has been eliminated by step 2, as described here, we create a society of subjects absolutely unable to and terrified of using their imaginations for anything like getting out of the holes they suddenly find their leaders have located them in.
  3. Therefore, as society’s overriding discourse becomes one essentially of the need for both corporations and flesh-and-blood persons to sink or swim on their own behalf, the reality is actually as follows: on the one hand, these corporations absorb the wealth that once belonged to the public sector, living as parasites (or symbiotically – I am still not sure which) on the public host; on the other hand, these flesh-and-blood persons, whilst rubbished for being poor and being simultaneously exhorted to stop being poor by themselves, become even more dependent on the state for their mental and physical wellbeing.

In the end, the three steps as described above reposition our leaders, both political and business, in roles of great power and immense hierarchy over the ordinary folk: the paradox being that whilst independence is being savagely preached in public discourse, in truth the reality has reimposed a grand and terrible dependence of almost everybody on pyramidal structures we thought once well-vanquished long ago.

So is that the be-all-and-end-all of austerity?  Just that?  Isn’t there a loose end – a humongous loose end – dangling at the end of our process?

Why undermine the spending of so many “units” of consumer purchasing-power?  Why deliberately reduce the potential market for value-added products and services?  Why aim to make everyone as poor as church mice?

Here, then, comes step 4: whilst the first three steps were necessary to re-establish corporate capitalism’s equilibrium and rules in the face of open-source movements, libertarian politics and much nastier elements out there, once re-established such an equilibrium, the plan will be also to re-establish that lost purchasing power.  Of course, before that is done, the public sector (the NHS, education, fire services, Legal Aid, police services and a whole swathe of other support environments) needs to be privately mined for as much public wealth as can possibly be transferred in the meantime.  But eventually, even economic behemoths such as health services will run their course.  And private citizens’ spending power will return to the agendas of almost all politicians – clearly alongside, that is, their cosy business leaders and interests.

So it is we come to that step 4 which I’ve mentioned previously: the universal basic income (UBI) which Mason has publicly espoused.  Imagine, now, after austerity’s been a) used to re-engineer terrified dependence on the status quo by formerly independent, creative and thoughtful souls – unpredictable souls, mind (maybe that was the real problem) – and b) used to re-establish important controls over society’s running by equally dependence-forming transnationals, how easy it would now become to introduce such a basic income, as well as get widespread and publicly relieved acceptance.

To understand the issue and the establishment’s fears, of course, we’d have to examine what might happen were it to be done in a different way: in a world, pre-austerity, with a) the sense of security provided by so many hard-earned savings in so many hard-working pockets; b) coupled with the guarantees and safety nets a society with secure welfare systems in place would offer; and c) in addition to the joy of not worrying any longer what the end of the month would bring … well, to introduce a UBI in such a context would mean the predictable and probably short-term collapse of the big interests we’ve been talking about and their hierarchies.

However, if you use austerity first to position society as you need it, ensuring that ordinary citizens forget what different futures might have been, as you force them to suffer a decade of lost generations … well, then, a life as a kept consumer-patty doesn’t seem such a bad choice or outcome after all.

Am I right?  Is this analysis just the ramblings of a daft amateur thinker?

For you to judge, dear readers.  For you to judge.

Have a good day, as always.  And don’t forget – whatever the miseries around you – to continue to strive to be creative in your thoughts.

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Nov 122014
 
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This morning, a nerve-wracking Microsoft Windows 8.1 update hit my laptop.  Later in the day, though taking much longer, it seemed to go far more smoothly on a Vista machine.  But then in the second case I didn’t choose “Update and restart” – I reverted to what anecdotally always seems to be the far more robust “Update and shutdown”, plus manual restart.

The strange thing about this update – on my Windows 8.1 machine, I mean – was that all of a sudden of the habitually 30-odd Skype contacts of mine who normally show as online the whole 24 hours a day, only three to five were showing the aforementioned status.  Meanwhile, loading up the same Skype account on my Vista machine showed everything as normal.

A second curiosity: since Skype put chat in the cloud, when you send a chat message to someone offline, instead of the irritating “wait circle” you simply get the message delivered, and it’s waiting there for when its recipient goes back online – whether you yourself are online at the time or not.  Well, wouldn’t you know it?  Whilst the functionality remained as of late, and as expected under my Vista machine, and I was able to see messages delivered to people showing as offline, the irritating “wait circle” had returned to my 8.1, so much so that the messages didn’t get delivered at all.  Except to two members of my family.  Yes.  Under 8.1, I was still able to communicate with them.

In fact that “wait circle” reminded me of more private and secure Skype times, when chats weren’t held in distant servers but were either delivered or not from computer to computer.

Except this way of doing things, if I’ve understood correctly, has no longer been the case since the beginning of 2014.

Where am I going with this then?

If the problem was my Skype install (I did two clean reinstalls – one, myself, following online instructions; the other, under the guidance of the excellent support staff I was eventually grateful to stumble across), then why did four people continue to show up as online – even under 8.1?  And if the problem was my anti-virus (we’ll get to that later), the same argument surely would apply.

In truth, I was mighty puzzled by it all.  It was almost as if something was stopping the program from properly accessing the whole database of contacts – for some (for me) unfathomable reason.

Anyhow.  Finally the issue was resolved in the following way: after the aforementioned support staff suggested it could be my security software, I made Skype an excepted application for my anti-virus’ protocol filtering.  It was only then when – under 8.1 – all my contacts returned back to the online status, and the “wait circle” stopped appearing on my attempts to send messages to online and offline contacts.

In a minute you’ll be able to read the chat history of this excellent support individual, anonymised as it should be of course.  But before you do (and only if that is what you wish, of course), I’d also like to add to the mix the following additional information in relation to my recent experiences:

  • In order that the email client Thunderbird and the browser SeaMonkey don’t become incapacitated with security messages from within themselves, and after a previous suggestion of the anti-virus people themselves in relation to the same thing happening when I tried to access Gmail about two years ago, I’ve also found myself obliged to except both from the software’s web and email protocol filtering, in much the same way as with Skype this evening
  • Though I know very little about this subject, the fact that icky Gmail certificates were generating warning messages when my anti-virus was full-on didn’t impress me very much – and this was way before Snowden and stuff.
  • The fact that the pattern then repeated with two open-source programs like Thunderbird and SeaMonkey impressed me even less.
  • And the fact that the only way Skype is now usable for me under Windows 8.1 involves me engaging with the same rather strange, rather daft procedure makes me wonder if something else isn’t happening more generally here; even, if it mightn’t be symptomatic of silly shenanigans.*

So.

To finish.

The raw data.  Attached below.

Enjoy.

_____________________

* Mind you, I’ve just been reliably informed (very reliably informed) that more than shenanigans of a sort we should tend to distrust, this is likely to be the consequence, once again, of rubbishly complicated software systems.

General Info
Chat start time  Nov 12, 2014 3:45:52 PM EST
Chat end time  Nov 12, 2014 5:00:26 PM EST
Duration (actual chatting time)  01:14:34
Operator  C
Chat Transcript
info: Please wait for an agent to respond.  You are currently ‘1’ in the queue.
info: Privacy Statement
You are now chatting with ‘C’.

Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Hi
C: Welcome to Skype Live Support, My name is C
C: If incase we get disconnected, simply click on the Chat Support Link and you will be reconnected to us in no time.
C: https://support.skype.com/support_selection.
C: With that being said, how can I help you today?
C: Hello
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I updated Windows 8.1 this morning, Vista later in the day on a separate PC.
C: Alright
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Although on the Vista laptop everything has remained the same with Skype, on the 8.1 three-quarters of my contacts show as offline.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: When on Vista they all show as online.
C: I see
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I’ve uninstalled Skype; downloaded the new UI Skype for Desktops from your download page, installed that instead; the issue remains the same.
C: If I may ask where you able to have a chat conversation with this offline contacts?
C: Don’t worry, I have an idea of what the issue could be. Let me just ask you a few questions to narrow down the possibilities. Alright?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I sent a chat to someone who was intermittently online and offline; all I got was the wait circle (like you used to get before cloud chat).
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: Thank you
C: May I have your name and your Skype name.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Miljenko Williams
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: oleokcom
C: Nice to meet you Miljenko
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Nice to meet you, too. :-)
C: Since you already did some basic trouble shooting.
C: Let me inform you that we are having an issue regarding the update of our online storage.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: Skype is currently updating it’s online storage which we normally call as the ‘CLOUD”.As for effect some customers experience issues regarding seeing their contacts online but in reality they are offline or signed out.
C: I believe this is what happening on your part. If you are both online to your Vista an 8.1. If you see the contact online on Vista message the contact if he/she replies then that person is really online but appearing offline in windows 8.1.
C: But if the person appears online in Vista then no reply after your chat message then his status in the windows 8.1 which is offline is the real one.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK. However, the online status for practically everyone works under Vista and 8.1 for my other account miljenko.williams – no difference between the two. The difference only seems to be with 8.1 immediately after the 8.1 update this morning.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: And on the oleokcom account.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Different contacts in some cases, of course.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: But it still seems a bit of a coincidence.
C: Can you confirm different account same contacts?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Someone messaged me under Vista, and was showing online – and yet was showing offline and unreachable to reply via 8.1.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Some same contacts, others different.
C: But can you reach the person via Vista?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: The message didn’t have the wait circle; I sent it a minute or two after trying under 8.1, when it wouldn’t send at all (got the wait circle).
C: Were you able send message or call the person using your Vista?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: So it looks like the message was delivered as per cloud features; whether this means the other person received it, I don’t know. They didn’t reply.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I can try to do it now if you are prepared to wait.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I can try with 8.1.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: to someone who is normally online.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: And I expect to be.
C: Since you mentioned that it is not workign properly on windows 8.1
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: But currently shows offline.
C: I need to confirm if same goes with your Vista
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I’ll try on the Vista PC if you can wait.
C: Alright please take your time.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Have just sent a message to an “offline” person via 8.1; shows the wait circle just waiting to deliver (as happened with Skype in the past before cloud storage of chat).
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Will now try via Vista.
C: alright
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK. A contact shows online under Vista and the oleokcom account. I’ve sent a message and it’s been delivered (tho’ I don’t yet know if read).
C: I have two options for you here. 1. I can guide you on how to do basic trouble shooting to fix your issue or 2.If it’s okay with you , I can do basic troubleshooting on my end if you will allow me to share access to your device.Which one would you prefer?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I’ve now sent a message under 8.1 and the oleokcom account, and it refuses to deliver.
C: I see
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Can we try 1 and then if it doesn’t produce the result, can we try 2?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: If you don’t mind.
C: Alright
C: Let us make a clean uninstall to your skype for desktop.
C: THis are some basic trouble shooting.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Okey dokey.
C: 1. Delete skype folder in %appda%
C: 2.Delete skype folder in %Temp%
C: 3.Delete skype folder in Program Data
C: Make sure to quit skype before deleting them.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I think I did that this morning, as per online support at the Skype forum. But I’ll do it again.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I renamed it Skype_old
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: (Step 1)
C: Yes
C: But how about the Temp folder
C: The Program Data ?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: The temp folder too. But I’m happy to do again.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Shall I close Skype down before doing so?
C: Alriht and please make sure to delete the Program Data
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: Thank you
C: Still there?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Yes. Just doing.
C: Alright
C: After deleting all folders uninstall your skype
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Done.
C: Alright
C: Already uninstalled and installed skype 6.22 version?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Will do now.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I can do it from the download from this mroning, right?
C: Yes
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK. Installed.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Shall I sign-on?
C: Please
C: Alright what seems to be the update?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Well.
C: Well?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: The account shows 28 users online under Vista; only four or five under 8.1.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Also; this morning, some of the users lost their real names.
C: 5 online and the rest are offline?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: First under 8.1, presumably when I did a clean install.
C: yes
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Yes.
C: 5 online on windows 8.1 and the rest offline?
C: Okay now can you try calling the online on your vista if it rings or the call fails
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: But this also affected the Vista install, so the real names dropped off too, although I have changed nothing with Vista, and I did do the MS update on Windows this afternoon.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: Okay?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: The person didn’t answer on the Vista machine. And is offline on 8.1. Shall I try via 8.1?
C: It;s okay
C: if it’s offline it will not answer
C: Is there no contacts that are online on you Vista that is offline on your 8.1 that answers the message or call?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: What’s curious is that in the drop down to block people on Tools under Vista,
C: Why what seems to be the problem from there?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: only 4 possible names appear; and under 8.1 no names are possible. It doesn’t give the option, almost as if part of skype isn’t accessing the database of contacts.
C: But were you able to send chat message to your 8.1 skype contacts now/
C: ?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Nope.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: It does that wait circle.
C: can you try to turn of your fire wall and antivirus and try to send message.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: Thank you
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I’ve just sent a chat to someone else who is online, via 8.1, and no wait circle.
C: No wai circle but it was sent?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Yes.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Under 8.1.
C: no it’s good?
C: The sendign message?
C: sending**
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Messaging seems to work with at least one contact, but not all.
C: If the problem was your skype then it must be all.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Don’t think it’s an antivirus issue, but I can uncheck Skype from protocol checking if you want.
C: Yes please
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Unless it’s the database behind.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: If it were the antivirus, it would stop all messages, not allow one.
C: Just to check
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Okey dokey.
C: What it was thinkin is that if the issue was on your skype then it should not have allowed 1 message
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: But by the same argument, if it was the antivirus checking protocols, then it wouldn’t allow 1 message either.
C: Just to confirm
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Shall I log in to Skype and log off?
C: That is why I am asking you to try
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I’ve removed protocol filtering from the antivirus for Skype.
C: Alright please do.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Log off and log on, I meant.
C: Please go and try to use skype message
C: okay
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK. If I don’t use protocol filtering (which isn’t *terribly* safe) then all the contacts under 8.1 appear exactly as under Vista. The problem is the anti-virus, or how it interacts with an 8.1 update which maybe has affected how Skype interacts.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: The antir-virus product version hasn’t changed today; the anti-virus updates have continued throughout the day.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I use the same anti-virus on Vista and 8.1.
C: Alright so after doing everything are there any improvement in sending chat mesage?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: With the same settings.
C: I understand. And now what we are trying is to confirm since this is part of basic trouble shooting.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: That’s fine.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I understand.
C: And I want to know if there are some changes after the said action.
C: Now what i am waiting if after doing what i ahev asked is there any changes?
C: If not then fell free to change back the settings of your firewall or anti virus
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I’ve messaged someone else,
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: who messaging before produced the wait circle.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: This time no wait circle.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: What puzzles me is why one message did get through, even with protocol filtering, when the rest didn’t.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: In fact, I messaged quite happily with a family member about an hour ago, from 8.1.
C: Since you mentioned this was an update made to th system of your device.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: But a number of Vista (and now 8.1) online contacts produced the wait circle.
C: Im afraid only microsfot can answer that what I am trying to do now is do basic trouble shooting until it worked.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Well.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: But Skype *is* Microsoft!!!!!
C: Since everything happen after the update of your operating system.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: But I understand.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Yes.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: The anti-virus engine hasn’t been updated.
C: Yes it is but for microsoft we have a different specialized team for Micrososft Operating system itself.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I understand that too.
C: We are only being trained on how to work on skype.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: And appreciate it.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: Now what I am doing now is working on your device based on what I have learned.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: Thank you
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Do you need to know the anti-virus product? I don’t usually say, but it might be useful to track issues.
C: For anti virus do you have the option to allow skype as priority?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Not sure about that. What I’ve done is make Skype an exception for protocol filtering under advanced settings for web and email. That has brought back all the contacts as online.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: And allowed me to deliver messages without the wait circle.
C: Alright
C: good
C: Good that you have set it as exemption then that means your antivirus is running till?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: What I don’t understand is why some contacts were reachable (two, max three) and the vast majority were not.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Yes.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: And the firewall.
C: Good
C: that is the 2nd thing I want to confirm
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Even with protocol filtering on, those two or three were chattable.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK:
C: Hold on
C: Please listen
C: Please read this carefully
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: I want to confirm if those contacts that are offline on windows 8.1 are reachable on Vista now that they are online in Vista and offline in 8.1?
C: Now please confirm it.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: There are 27 online under 8.1, 27 online under Vista.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I don’t know if they’re really online.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: But they now sync the same information in the same way.
C: Exactly
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Unfortunately it’s a bit late here,
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: so I can’t be calling people at this time.
C: Hold on
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: can we try to do this?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: Just let your skype be online for 12 hours or 24 hours
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Yep.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: On both machines or just one?
C: Since you mentioned taht is updating late on your 8.1.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: 8.1 was updated this morning.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: It took about 45 minutes to complete.
C: But wich one is havin issue isn’t it the 8.1?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: With the MS update.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Not any more. Not since I removed protocol filtering from Skype.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Just now.
C: Alright then no issues already/
C: ?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Well.
C: Well?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: If Vista is correct and OK, and 8.1 is reading the same, they’re either both right or both wrong. But similarly so in each case.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: That’s all I can say for the moment.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Shall we see if it works tomorrow, when I can call people,
C: Alright so is there any more concern I can help you with?
C: Sure please do.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: and if there is still an issue, I’ll get in touch with you again?
C: Anyways we are open 24 hours 7 days a week
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Many thanks for the support you’ve provided.
C: Youa re welcome anytime.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Have a lovely morning/evening/night!!! :-)
C: Thank you aswell
info: Your chat transcript will be sent to miljenko@ole-ok.com at the end of your chat.
C: I’m so happy that I was able to help. In case you have more concerns or issues please don’t hesitate to contact us again or you can visit support.skype.com for more information.
C: Once again, I am C. Thank you for contacting Skype Live Support and giving me the opportunity to assist you. Have a great day .
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Okey dokey.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: And apologies it took so long.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: You too!
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Nov 112014
 
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I’ve always loved the idea of art over rational debate and logical thought.  There are some things in life which are mightily ambiguous – and only very good art is able to unambiguously express them.  Whilst science and tech gnaw away at something until it reaches a kind of understanding, this very good art I mention is always happy to express the essential inability of something  else to be properly comprehended.  And it’s not that we don’t have enough information – we often have plenty.  It’s simply that the information we have cannot be satisfactorily couched in take-apart-able thinking terms.

An example of when art is debate enough is the sea of poppies on display at the moment around the Tower of London.  This sea represents a weeping sea of blood, as it reminds us of the horrors of war: specifically, the First World War.  Each of the over 800,000 poppies represents one of the fallen in that terrible conflagration: a conflagration which was a failure of humanity just as much as it was a failure of politics and diplomacy.

I’m pretty sure anyone who visits this moving work of art – moving in the literal as well as the figurative sense – cannot avoid coming out of it with shared and common perceptions: the imagery is too clearly soaked with tragedy – with life and its untimely forced finishing – that very few, whatever their prior positions on this matter, can disagree with the overt thesis.

And yet I think this work of art – apparently titled “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” – does much more than take a singular position.  I’ve read quite a bit about it over the past few weeks, and still I have not seen bitter or acrimonious discussions coming out of it.  Whether one is in favour of war or not – and with ISIS and Syria continually sapping our moral strength, this is manifestly a time for such discussions to surface sooner or later – the reaction to this artistic installation is, at least for me, curiously muted.  In the face of its ambiguity – like music, it speaks without words we can take apart – we stumble across its very power: no one, whatever their existing/expressed political and military positions, can deny its accurate capturing of all the ambiguity surrounding human conflict.

It doesn’t battle to convince.

It just looks to tie down essence.

It’s not aiming to tell us what we should think.

It’s simply explaining what it is we should think about.

The sharpness of an ambiguity unequivocally communicated – on such a day as today, remember that.

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Nov 102014
 
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I’m slowly coming round to the conclusion that capitalism’s not the problem.  True, its richest exponents have distorted representative democracy by buying into all kinds of bodies politic (more here on a related topic – revolving doors).  And this has meant – in real and quantifiable terms – we can now see exactly how our representative democracy’s been hounded to early infirmity:

Present social movements, as “Occupy Wall Street” or the Spanish “Indignados”, claim that politicians work for an economic elite, the 1%, that drives the world economic policies. In this paper we show through econometric analysis that these movements are accurate: politicians in OECD countries maximize the happiness of the economic elite. In 2009 center-right parties maximized the happiness of the 100th-98th richest percentile and center-left parties the 100th-95th richest percentile. The situation has evolved from the seventies when politicians represented, approximately, the median voter.

But it seems to me this hasn’t happened so much because capitalists are an evil bunch – or at least, not a particularly evil bunch.  Whilst my own experience of business in the language-services sector at the hands of the bigger fish should lead me to easily agree with the latter idea, I’m not inclined to do so any more: firstly, business, doing business, isn’t easy at all – whatever the size of your institution.  Unavoidable overheads and running costs, the vulnerability which social media and networks bring, just getting paid on time – and in time – affects and stresses us all.  (It also may lead many of us into sanctioning things a calmer moment or two wouldn’t allow.)  Secondly, whilst it’s true that big business has imposed its structure on representative democracy, it might also be true that representative democracy has played a part in doing exactly the same in the opposite direction.

The state, after all, is never a neutral concept.

In fact, I’d prefer to stop calling it “representative democracy”: prefer, much more, to call it “distanced democracy”.

In the same way as we often accuse the hierarchical agencies which rule large corporate bodies (not only big capitalist companies; also, smaller – supposedly charitable – institutions) of exhibiting highly removed behaviours from the daily hustle and bustle of down-at-the-bottom-of-the-pile workforces, so democracies which have operated through the variably good faith of professional politicians and other enablers of political activity have tended to become similarly ensconced in bubbles of unburstable self-belief.

Taking the whole #SamaritansRadar process as an example here: we clearly have an example of people at the top who have no clear idea of what they’re unleashing.  And this is probably because they are at the top: there’s no way anyone – even someone with immense dollops of the good faith I’ve already mentioned we all need more of – can possibly determine accurately what someone else, who spends their entire day-to-day existence working with the consequences of these “distanced” decision-making processes, already knows all too easily; already knows all too worryingly.

No.  I don’t think capitalism is the issue after all.  What’s in crisis ain’t a historically slippery economic “system”, which in truth is anything but a system as ideologues might understand it.  What’s in crisis is the relationship between its customers and itself: so much so that, foolishly, its biggest proponents, through secretive trade treaties various, are aiming to feather-bed their economic fears and desires in order not to have worry about overheads, late payment dates and evermore bolshie and nationalistic nation-states – looking, equally, as the latter are, to tie down future exploitation of land, sea, natural resource and multifarious property rights in almost everything, at the expense of the permanent and frantic control freakery these frontier-less capitalists manifest.

But then who can blame them?  (The capitalists, I mean.)  Wouldn’t you do the same, once (if) you managed to reach a certain critical mass?  Wouldn’t the roller-coaster of “grow or be destroyed” eventually force you down the route they all inevitably end up following?

This is why I’d suggest the solution isn’t to be found via reining in the capitalists – nor complaining, observing, suggesting or sustaining the idea that capitalism is broken.

The solution, for capitalism and democracy both, lies in the lessons of #SamaritansRadar: yes, people like myself, who don’t consider ourselves disabled, who don’t identify one-to-one with everything those with significant support needs rightly fight for … well, we can always choose to support a campaign, a movement, a direction on behalf of one party or another.  And that, to an extent, is good – of course it is.

But a real democracy, a democracy which is not “distanced”, a democracy which gets closer to the accuracy of persistent, timely complaint, is the kind of democracy where those who are directly and indiscriminately affected by oppressive behaviours have their own ability, tools and environments to allow them to continually shout the loudest, and be continually heard.  And just as this kind of what we might call “first-person democracy” will always guarantee the noise is maintained until it becomes unnecessary, so – in the same way – what the “distanced capitalism” I alluded to before needs in order that it may become irrelevant and out-of-date is a similarly close and faithful relationship between those who can exercise it as a tool of business and those – its customers, in fact – who have a daily, continuous and perpetual right to judge it: to judge it, to complain about it and to get their voices properly heard.

To judge persistently in first person with reliable data, evidence and conjecture … that is all our currently “distanced democracy” needs to become relevant once more to our needs; and that is all our “distanced capitalism” needs to become irrelevant to our preoccupations.

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