Oct 292013

I’ve been having a few problems recently.  Mainly as a result of my off-and-on relationship with technology.  I’ve documented them here and here, so if you want to bring yourself up to speed you might want to read these posts before we continue.

You can understand that I felt aggrieved enough with Carphone Warehouse and Blackberry for not repairing something still supposedly under guarantee.  This was the bit of their reply which most upset my sensitive soul, when I queried CPW’s initial refusal to do anything at all (the bold is mine):

The reason for this is that, upon review, your handset was missing buttons. This type of damage, regardless if it caused the fault on the device or not, invalidates the warranty and means that we cannot repair this without a charge.

As it seemed pretty clear that no other option was available to me, I didn’t reply to the email in question.  Then yesterday I got a follow-up which went as follows:

Dear Mr Williams

We have not received a response from our recent email.

If there is anything else that we can assist you with, please let me know.

If we haven’t heard from you in the next 7 days, we will close your case file down.

So that was when I found it in myself to reply.  This is what I said:


Many thanks for your follow-up.

I think your email made it very clear I have no other options in this matter.  I hardly felt a response was even expected.  However, as you have asked for one, I’d like to make it clear I will no longer be purchasing nor recommending products or services sold by CPW – either online or in its shops, either in Britain or in Spain – nor shall I be investing in any Blackberry products in the future (if, that is, the company manages to remain at all viable).  Any phone contracts I have which I suspect may benefit your group will, when they come up for renewal, be moved to other providers.

That’s about all I can do.

Your bottom lines are safe.

Kind regards,

Miljenko Williams

Meanwhile, my second major techie issue seems to rumble inconclusively on.  Last week I contacted Tesco about the failure of my two-year-old 3G Kindle’s screen.  Whilst contacting their helpline connected me directly with Amazon, I felt my contractual relationship should be with the shop I bought the product from.  Amazon offered me an upgrade I would obviously have to pay for.  My initial reaction was that I would rather it be replaced for the exact same keyboarded model.  It had been a birthday present from my eldest son and I valued the object as such.  The gentleman on the customer helpline said no similar models were made any more by Amazon, and an upgrade was the only option.

I then phoned Tesco’s helpline again, this time choosing non-Kindle options from the menu in order to speak to a Tesco person him- or herself.  And this time I pursued – as per the advice from our local store – the “electrical products out of warranty” path, where you can put in a request for a pro-rata compensation payment to be made, if the product you’re complaining about is judged to have a life expectancy beyond that which it has shown.  I was given a timeframe of 48 hours for a response, I think it was.  Unfortunately, that was last week and this is this week.

Now I’m obviously going to have to negotiate Tesco’s complex menu system all over again in order to chase the case up.  But before I do, I thought I’d put down my preferred outcome in black and white, along with a few wider observations on what corporate capitalism is doing to us all.

Kindle is a great system for binding you into Amazon’s infrastructures, that is true.  It also offers significant benefits – if, that is, you’re prepared to accept the limitations the system leads to with respect to ownership, portability of content and so forth.  But where it wins out – its ability to be accessed from a multitude of devices and allow you to pick up from where you left off absolutely anywhere – is precisely where it is damaging our previous and singularly healthy attachments to artefacts.

In the past, when we gave someone an object of certain value, this object maintained both its operational ability, its physical integrity and its sentimental value for many many years.  Out of love, out of respect and out of a generosity which characterises him, my eldest son wanted to make what he felt would be a present I would always treasure and remember him by.  And he got it right – an electronic book: something I have been fighting for and arguing in favour of for over a decade now.  What more could a loving son want to gift an aspiring editor-father than something in the very vanguard of 21st century publishing?

But now I realise, at least as per Amazon’s intentions (and possibly Tesco’s too – I have yet to find out), my treasured birthday present has become – two short years and a few months later – a mere accountant’s calculation in an upgrade path to tablet-ownership.  Yes.  Corporate capitalism, and here I mean both Amazon and Tesco, both Carphone Warehouse and Blackberry, both Apple and Samsung, as well as practically everyone and their mother, is in the process of making us about as promiscuous with our artefacts as any grasping capitalist could hope for; about as promiscuous with our objects as any Sixties’ hedonist ever was with their bodies; about as promiscuous and uncaring about the intrinsic value of what we give to another as any shallow consumer manages to be with their trashed-upon and popcorned entertainment.

To be honest, I don’t want a brand new super-duper all-colour upgrade.  That wasn’t what my dearest son gave me just over two years ago.  What I want is for the object he gave me, the very object he gave me, the very same serial-numbered present, to return to the state it was in during the summer when I was still able to finger its well-designed curves.

Yes.  It’s the object he gave me which I want to recover.  It’s his present, not your largesse, which I want to be able to remember him by.

So does no one out there, no one at all, understand in any way what I am getting at here?

Does no one else see what we are losing?

Does no one else care to care?

Oct 172013

I’m conscious that the nuclear option – pressing the red social-networked shit-everywhere button – is not the kindest, nor perhaps the most productive, way of proceeding in these matters.  So I’ll try to be even-handed.

Less than two years ago (well within the standard warranty period I was later to discover), we bought our daughter a Blackberry 8520 PAYG phone on the T-Mobile network from Carphone Warehouse online.  It cost around a hundred pounds.  Ever since, she’s been as happy as anyone might be with her aforementioned present – in a first-world-joy sort of way it goes without saying. Halfway through this year some buttons dropped off, but they were volume buttons and didn’t affect the functionality of the phone.  Then, this September, after a summer of intermittent software freezes, the beast decided to give up the ghost.

Stumbling haphazardly across the original receipt whilst doing some pre-autumn cleaning, I decided to phone up CPW to find out if it was still under guarantee.  To my surprise I was informed that it was.  I went into our local Ellesmere Port store, where they looked a bit dubious and refused to promise anything.  The main complaint we registered was the software freezing; as a by-the-by we also mentioned the buttons had fallen off, adding we felt this was through no fault of the user.  Remember: a hundred-quid object (say a cheap under-the-counter freezer) whose buttons dropped off after less than two years’ use would almost certainly find its way through to some kind of compensation from its vendor, were the consumer to decide to complain.

So the phone went off to CPW’s repair team – no longer to Blackberry itself we were informed by the store – and we waited for about a week.  Unfortunately, the reply was not the one we were looking for: a chargeable repair for the buttons, not the software we had complained about, which would cost around £170.  When I objected to this, and asked that the repair centre be contacted in the store, and whilst the phonecall in question was being made, I was told if I wished to complain I would have to contact CPW via their website.  The store couldn’t do this on my behalf, even though – at the time I asked them to do so, and in front of my dear old self – they were speaking to someone from the very same repair centre.

I duly contacted CPW via Twitter, who directed me to the website contact form I had been referred to instore.

Shortly afterwards, I received an email saying the matter would be looked into.

Today, after a couple of days naively living in hope of better things, times and outcomes, I received the following email (the bold is mine, and I have anonymised the sender’s name to avoid any embarrassment):

Dear Mr Williams

Thank you for your patience in this matter.

I have now concluded our investigations into your complaint. I reviewed the original decision that your handset couldn’t be repaired without a charge being applied. I must confirm that we cannot alter this outcome.

The reason for this is that, upon review, your handset was missing buttons. This type of damage, regardless if it caused the fault on the device or not, invalidates the warranty and means that we cannot repair this without a charge.

Our repair department operate under licence from the manufacturers, and under our licence any invalidated warranty repairs are not able to be completed without a cost.

I understand that this will not be the outcome you were looking for, however I must advise that this is the final response we could offer on this complaint.

If you have any further questions, please let me know.

Kind regards

R_____ B___

CEO Team
Carphone Warehouse

To summarise then: this model of Blackberry has a two-year warranty and a software fault which the vendor – Carphone Warehouse – is unable to repair because buttons have fallen off, presumably due to a weakness in the manufacturer’s original design.  (They are, if I remember rightly, electromechanical buttons covered in rubber – hardly the toughest sort of construction you can imagine out there.)  I do wonder, idly by now I have to say, how many other vendors – and manufacturers, whilst we’re at it – cover their backsides with these techie products by restricting their warranties through exempt electromechanical failure.  And though I am an utter non-expert in these matters, I still fail to see why frozen smartphone software cannot be repaired because totally unrelated buttons have fallen off.

I’ve been a reasonably assiduous purchaser at CPW over the years, and I love my Blackberry Playbook as a forgotten beast of fearsomely strong beauty too.  But I’m afraid when I do upgrade either a phone or a tablet, I shall resort neither to CPW nor to Blackberry.

The nuclear option is it?  I don’t think so.  Acer and Apple and Amazon have messed us around just as much.

Just a disappointed, saddened and disillusioned end-user, then, who was once fascinated by this very 21st-century world; and who’s slowly learned to distrust anything these both foreign and homegrown – both distant and supposedly close – technological corporations so love to promise you, your loved ones and the world they claim to want to serve … when, that is, we unguardedly choose to part with some of our dosh.

Oct 132013

I tweeted this idly yesterday:

So what’s the punishment for corporate blackmail? Or is it simply not illegal, like so much out there? #EnergyPriceFreeze #BlackoutThreat

Essentially it would seem that, as a first horrible step, some of the energy companies themselves, and now their political nominees the Tories, are doing for the energy industry what the bankers have achieved for financial services: make latterday greed and laziness overtake a former efficiency and ingenuity.  By threatening the nation with energy blackouts down the line, they are committing serious and life-threatening blackmail on an industrial scale.  “If you don’t agree to higher prices as per our demands, we will guarantee that blackouts take place.”  No spirit of striving to do better against the odds; just promises to scrounge even more out of rapidly emptying pockets.  This luxury is not allowed for the sick, disabled and generally struggling: whilst the energy corporations can continue to run their cash cows, the rest of us have to use our natural nous – nous they would claim not to have – to battle our individual ways out of very individual miseries.

As Peter Tatchell reminded us a few hours ago:

UK national minimum wage up by 75% since 1998 but gas cost up 175%, bread up 146%. Poor being squeezed @UKuncut

And that is the cost of living crisis Ed Miliband’s Labour is now foregrounding.  That is the reason this energy blackmail is so disgraceful.  For, in truth, these cash-rich suppliers – even if right about possible blackouts – care zero, zilch, in no way at all about those individual families already forced to black out their homes due to the horrendous increases in the cost of basic needs such as food, housing and energy in particular.

Just like the Tories, this.  Just like the Tories of old.  Just as a spiralling private debt makes the levels of public debt less unacceptable, so permitting an ever-increasing private suffering through the food versus fuel dilemma makes public acknowledgement – ie mainstream-visible recognition - less necessary, less likely and less possible.

To summarise, then: those energy companies of a mind to be this cruel, and those Tories in political cahoots with such unkindnesses, terrify the defenceless with the thought of blacked-out freezing winters, where all of us must share – in the unavoidably public domain! – seasons of national discontent.  They demand, in exchange for secure supplies, exorbitant prices which, by the by, maintain their equally cash-rich shareholders happy.  They deliberately forget, ignore and brush under so many living-room carpets the fact that hundreds of thousands of families – maybe millions! – are already being forced to turn off the heating.

You idiots!  There’s little point in guaranteeing energy supplies to a wider public if too many of them simply cannot pay what you prefer to charge.  What kind of service is that?  What kind of economy does this?  Managing demand through pricing policies instead of strategically meeting supply?  Is that what we’re now at – even here?  Even in basic sectors such as fuel?  Even when people’s lives are at stake?

Let’s change the frame.  Let’s change the focus.  If the disabled have to make do with far less than is humanely reasonable, and even then must still battle fiercely not to tip over into poverty, despair and suicide, let us make it clear to the energy corporations that they must now equally use their ingenuity to protect our futures.

You’re not telling me, surely, that what a disabled person must strive to achieve in Cameron’s Britain is beyond the capability of a mighty British corporate organisation …  Oh.  But I forgot.  Not all of the energy companies are actually British.  Nor would they behave in exactly the same way in their own countries of origin.

Funny that, eh?  Bloody ROFL time.

Oct 092013

Compare and contrast.  Read this first (I’ve linked to it before) from Open Democracy on how the BBC – the British public service broadcasting organisation paid for by every TV owner in the country through a licence fee – has consistently ignored the ramifications and reality of a stealthy privatisation of the National Health Service in the two years following the Coalition government’s power grab in 2010.

Now study the BBC‘s six public purposes as currently outlined here:

Sustaining citizenship and civil society
The BBC provides high-quality news, current affairs and factual programming to engage its viewers, listeners and users in important current and political issues.

Promoting education and learning
The support of formal education in schools and colleges and informal knowledge and skills building.

Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence
Encouraging interest, engagement and participation in cultural, creative and sporting activities across the UK.

Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities
BBC viewers, listeners and users can rely on the BBC to reflect the many communities that exist in the UK.

Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK
The BBC will build a global understanding of international issues and broaden UK audiences’ experience of different cultures.

Delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services
Assisting UK residents to get the best out of emerging media technologies now and in the future.

Now we could, of course, as per each of our very personal and political prejudices, fisk the above till the cows come home.  But it’s not the purpose of this post to do that.  I have my own view – fairly jaundiced by now – of what the BBC has become.  There is evidence to support my view too – Open Democracy’s piece being only perhaps the most impactful and carefully argued of a raft of recent critiques on what was once a binder of nations and peoples.

To be honest, the BBC‘s decline and fall in the eyes of many was perhaps inevitable: it reigned unopposed in years and decades when the ruling classes had a pretty unique hold on the airwaves.  The virtual ethers didn’t even exist at the time; the ever-suppurating pollution of such singular discourses simply didn’t take place.  At least not publicly.  What counted, in those days, as rebellion involved sexy young people singing their way into our consciences as, simultaneously, they preached revolution by perpetuating – at a personal level at least – the capitalist dream.

Hardly a revolution likely to bring down anyone, or indeed anything, of a traditional bent.

Public service broadcasting today, then.  How does it stand?  How should we conceptualise it?  A broadcasting which serves the public via Parliament’s – ie the Coalition and the wider establishment’s – view of what we as a represented and mediated public need, deserve and can be allowed?  Or a broadcasting which serves the public through a software constitution created behind closed doors by a private company’s software engineers to generate long-term content that can be duly monetised for the benefit of eager shareholders?

You may suggest that for all its faults, the BBC‘s Charter and relationship with Parliament guarantees a closer fit with the needs of the British people than an American corporation of broadly libertarian philosophies, where anything and everything very publicly goes.

Well.  Maybe so.  And maybe not quite so.  Lately, I think, I’m beginning to conclude that if you’re looking for a truly 21st century equivalent of the very 20th century public service ethos the BBC once seemed to enshrine, you’d be better off looking to Twitter et al – even as their very American façades do make us pale on occasions in the face of their terribly gung-ho enthusiasms.  All of the six purposes the BBC supposedly espouses – in its very 20th century “let me do it for you” way – I have seen generated on Twitter over the past couple of years, by the careful drawing up and development of an online constitution which permits people to communicate and fashion their environment directly and through their own voices.

Downsides?  Many, of course.  The biggest being the monetisation process.  We are, it is true, the product and not the client.  Our data, our thought patterns, our attitudes and reactions, are being number-crunched and made money of time and time again.  But is this any different – or, at least, any worse – than a public service broadcasting corporation like the BBC which has not only permitted in its notably halcyon days a paedophilia of dreadful proportions but has also – in what we might term its moment of greatest decline and fall – exhibited a rank partiality to a government of barely democratic means which has shown itself emotionally incapable of leading a country as one?

Never mind via evidence-based mindsets.

It’s not that the BBC no longer serves the public.

It’s rather that, through its political taskmasters, it serves itself of the public.  No difference, in truth, between the shareholding monetisers of American social networks and the allegedly cuddlier nationalities of our islands.

If that is to be our destiny, if that is to be our end, surely better that it should be perpetrated with even a scanty veneer of direct empowerment than this Coalition-sponsored daily thrashing and bashing of stats which BBC journalism and a wider current affairs have now become.

Me?  Even right now?  Even as I withdraw myself slowly from the web?  I’d still far rather mutely follow the occurrences of the crowd on Twitter than turn on the tele and engage in rubber-brick-throwing at the privileged elites.

Sep 292013

I recently wrote a post on the paradox whereby liberal democracy can carry within it the seeds of its own destruction.  The example quoted, from Paul over at Never Trust a Hippy, went thus:

Paul says these interesting things in his latest post:

I’ve often been asked about what happens when a new electoral process results in an illiberal government. I’ve been told that “if you promote liberal democracy, for example, in many countries in the Middle East, you create a situation whereby a totalitarian-ish Islamist party can take power”.

Surely this presents us with a paradox?

Well… no it doesn’t. If you hold an election, and the resulting constitutional settlement allows the winner to abolish, or rig, subsequent elections, then the election was not part of a process that could be described as ‘liberal democratic’ in the first place.

I remember the above, once more, as the Muppet Tory Party hold their annual hatefest in Manchester this week.  When, for example, I read stuff about David Cameron and Chris Grayling saying they’re looking to repeal the Human Rights’ Act, I am reminded of how challenging such broad-ranging measures are to our liberal sense of freedoms.  If historical Conservatism has any virtue at all, it is in its instinct to move cautiously when amending the fundamentals of any complex system.  You can never fully appreciate the long-term impact on anything when you rush fairly headlong into the matter.  Witness, if you will, New Labour’s initial steps towards NHS privatisation which have tragically laid the crazy-paving path of disaster the Tories are currently marching along and extending.

Using the law to undermine the law is a dangerous precedent of those who would forge and refashion worlds.  If politicians of this ilk like to criticise publishers such as the Murdochs and Assanges of our time for the megalomania they exhibit to ordinary people’s points of view, they might also care to examine their own impulses and attempts to change the terrible basics of human conflict and existence.

Politicians of this kind are little more than megalomaniacs of lever-pulling rule.  Only they believe – and this is the worst of it – that they do it, in the end, for our benefit.

For it is quite one matter when political parties like New Labour overwhelm us with legislation which builds on and furthers existing moralities.  We may agree with them or not; but they are existing, all the same.  In this, I think we can see that the beast was far more truly conservative than these current Tories.

It’s quite a separate matter, though, when you aim to upturn received opinion; when you look to drive a country down the alleyways of prejudice where its unkindest instincts lie.

And when you use the law to undermine  such received opinion, I honestly – sadly frankly – believe we are talking about little more than a de facto takeover of liberal democracy by those who would destroy its essence.

I can only repeat what I wrote in the piece I opened with this morning, where I rewrote my beloved Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:

Let’s rewrite them, then, but this time specifically in order to define how liberal democracy must defend human beings:

  1. Liberal democracy may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. Liberal democracy must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. Liberal democracy must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Or, alternatively, and perhaps equally revealingly, to define how human beings should defend liberal democracy:

  1. A human being may not injure liberal democracy or, through inaction, allow liberal democracy to come to harm.
  2. A human being must obey the orders given to them by liberal democracy, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A human being must protect their own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

If only some of the puppets peopling Tory Party Conference this year would take note of the importance of defending those basic principles of freedom – principles we should hold far more dearly than we do – perhaps, then, we could reach some kind of productive consensus in our broken politics.

For that, in truth, is now where we’re at.  Some of our politicians, who represent us from election to election (but don’t seem really to represent anyone except themselves), see the rest of us through a prism of broken politics: for them, it is our society which is broken and their responsibility to sort it.  But in reality what’s broken is Westminster itself.  It’s not us they need to mend but their own sorry front door.

It’s not us who have burgled the House of State at all.  It’s some of these society-reforming busybodies who have forgotten the very English concept of taking people with you when you propose change.

It’s some of these politicians who believe the law’s primary purpose is to abruptly upend everything that came before, instead of building on good practice and better beliefs.

Using the law to undermine the law is anything but good politics, business or governance.  And in the end, it comes back to bite you in the backside.  But in the meantime, before it does, very many ordinary citizens will suffer the awful consequences.

That is the real tragedy of this dreadful Muppet Show.  That is the real tragedy of incompetent governors like Cameron & Co.  We suffer, they don’t – and all the while, the United Kingdom no longer will be.

Roll on One Nation is all I can say.  Even where this will only mean I can contemplate a tidy little England for myself.

Sep 182013

The Lib Dems’ great achievement this term, perhaps for the whole of this miserable Parliament, will be to spend 400 quid per year on every child at the start of their educational lives – in order to improve their academic performance.

At least that’s what I conclude from the tenor of this article.

Talk about something for something politics.

These liberals are anything but.

And we haven’t learnt from the (perhaps apocryphal) Chinese.  We should:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

These Liberal Democrats are neither democratic nor liberal.  There.  I’m damn sure you’ve heard this phrase before; damn sure you’ll hear it again.  But it’s true.  The democratic socialist state we all once subscribed to was about intervening between business and people, and coming generally down on the side of people.  So it was that a moment of foolishness grabbed hold of our Labour leaders; the business world became tied up intimately in all the state’s acts; and soon it became impossible to see with any clarity who was being defended by whom.

The Tories then offered an alternative: small government, lots of entrepreneurs, none of that nasty red tape which made us all so inefficient and unhappy.

Only it turned out that what they really offered was big government, lots of rentiers and the kind of societal duct tape that looked to permanently trap the poor and underprivileged in their permanent underprivilege.

And now we have the Lib Dems, leaping onto the scene.  Free school meals for children who are suffering at the hands of so many austerity policies which the very same politicos have deliberately and knowingly sanctioned.

Aren’t they brave, knowing, resilient and responsible?

Only I’d really like to know what’s brave, knowing, resilient and responsible about a dash (a rather “light” version, in fact) of very old New Labour socialism-by-stealth intervention.  If Clegg’s to be the standard bearer, I think I’d prefer Blair in his early days – before, that is, the latter decided to become a permanent embarrassment to the species.

Let’s not do it this way.  Let’s not go down this route.  Let’s not give them fishes, wrap them up in duct tape or be awfully undemocratic.

So is it really beyond us to conceptualise a different kind of state?

Is it really beyond us to learn from past foolishnesses?

Is it really beyond us to see a different kind of future?

Or are we permanently condemned to suffer the indignities and consequences of an intellectually-bankrupt political class?

A political class which now seems to spend far more time selling its star products than even attempting to liberate its peoples.

Imposing, as it does, not only inhumanely but also evermore deliberately constructed yokes.

In this case, “go to work on a statist egg” being a top-down policy never more clearly delivered by politicians as substandard in their intellects as any of their miserably multifarious excuses for supposedly even-handed love.

Horrible horrible bunch, the lot of them.  I do wish they’d shut up and summarily slink away.

Alternatively, anyone any duct tape to hand?

Sep 072013

“Lavadora” is the Spanish word for “washing-machine”.  I’ve just woken up from a siesta, so it was the Spanish word which first came to mind when I read this story from the Guardian this afternoon:

One million of Britain’s lowest paid employees will be classed as “not working enough” and could find themselves pushed with the threat of sanctions to find more income under radical changes to benefits, the Department for Work and Pensions has said.

DWP internal documents seen by the Guardian reveal that people earning between £330 and around £950 a month – just under the rate of the national minimum wage for a 35-hour week – could be mandated to attend jobcentre meetings where their working habits will be examined as part of the universal credit programme.

Some of those deemed to be “not working enough” could also be instructed to take on extra training – and if they fail to complete tasks they could be stripped of their UC benefits in a move which departmental insiders conceded is controversial.

Now the above, I feel most strongly, is one of the wildest and most juggernauting examples of this government’s spin we’ve yet to witness in this Parliament.  Let’s examine, quickly, what it’s really aiming to do.

The government, rightly or wrongly, feels that it’s paying too much benefit to too many people.  It’d like to reduce what it pays out from month to month.  Imagine, however, the uproar it’d raise – even, perhaps, amongst its own supporters – if it suggested that anyone earning above 330 quid should have their rights, in the round, to access state benefits summarily withdrawn from their (“grasping/undeserving”) fingers.  Even those who’ve been fortunate enough never to experience rank poverty would find a headline figure like 330 difficult to stomach.  That’s a nice round number which easily matches a nasty filmic hovel of a renting experience – a hovel anyone, however rich or poor, could internalise in their consumerist mindscapes.

Then, of course, there’s the battle some are waging around not only not giving up on the minimum wage but – even – proposing the introduction of a “living” one.

Or, horror of horrors, do away with benefits altogether – and, instead, issue a flat-rate “citizen’s wage” for everyone who lives here, whatever their age or circumstance.

So how does the spin session – the “lavadora Britain” stratum (for it’s not just the government who’s choosing to play this game) – deal with this complex little conundrum?  Well, not much which the government hasn’t already done in the last three years.

Something go wrong with IT procurement?  Blame everyone and anything – but blame not oneself.  Parents feeding their children stuff which they really should know better not to?  Blame the parents, their lazy habits, their inability to care for their offspring properly – anything and everything, that is, except those who spend billions deliberately moulding our impulses.  Families not earning enough to get to the end of the month without state support?  Blame not their employers for paying too little; blame not the landlords for charging too much; blame not the food suppliers, the banks, the petrol companies nor the utility corporations for ripping off the British consumer (and all this, year after bloody toilsome year …).

No.  Let’s just think about it carefully.  Let’s just be a teensy-weensy bit cleverer than that.

What can we do instead of looking to re-establish some kind of properly free-market equilibrium?  What should we do instead of making capitalism something half-decent again?

[And so he hears himself laugh in a hollow and finally futile way.]

How about blaming the workers for their own penury?  Instead of aiming to fix capitalism so it’s no longer a licence to destroy ordinary people, instead of returning to some kind of honest baseline the sacred exchange of goods and services, how about we blame the workers – even more than before – for the rip-off Britain we’re all still struggling to value and abide by?

Great Britain, Mr Cameron?  You do bloody well have to be joking, right?

Washing-machine Britain, more like.  Washing-machine Cameron, in fact.  Now spinning at a disgraceful 2015 rpm.

Aug 232013

Trotsky is quoted as having argued:

A means can be justified only by its end.

There is a less well-known second half to this quote, though:

But the end in its turn needs to be justified.

Under Trotsky’s rationale, then, the ends justified the means – but the ends still needed debating first.  Under the Coalition’s, however, it would appear the means serve to justify the ends.  And so the ends, themselves, need no discussing at all.

Take, if you will, the case of the NHS.  As the service weights more and more patient needs towards a crumbling A&E provision, the government is privatising ever-greater swathes of the institution.  And whilst one might – for ideological reasons or otherwise – be for or against such a programme of privatisation, what no one can be happy with is the Coalition’s deliberate obfuscation of a direct line of ultimate responsibility (the bold is mine:)

“Reading headlines last week, such as ‘Struggling A&E units to get £500m bailout’ and ‘NHS managers to get price comparison website’, one might be forgiven for thinking that the current coalition government views the NHS as a failing bank or business,” [the Lancet, one of Britain's most prestigious medical journals] said.

“This stance is one of the most cynical, and at the same time cunning, ways by which the government abdicates all responsibilities for running a healthcare system that has patient care and safety at its heart.”

The journal, which has been publishing on medical matters for almost 200 years, said the coalition’s NHS reforms meant the health secretary “no longer has a duty to provide comprehensive health services”, having handed over responsibility to a “complex system of organisations”.

“The exact responsibilities are at best complex, not easily understood, and at worst deliberately obfuscated. Who exactly is leading and to what end is even less clear,” it said.

Couple all the above with the realities of very real, grave and upsetting parliamentary conflicts-of-interest, and it becomes clear what we’re having to deal with here: essentially, the means – private ownership of everything from health to postal delivery to education to democracy itself – now justify the ends.  That the ends equal everything from increasing waiting-lists to the reintroduction of Section 28 in schools to the loss of the public right to demonstrate – in an extra-parliamentary manner – any disagreement with parliamentary behaviours, tendencies and legislation … well, this really does not matter in this post-Trotsky world: by making the means equivalent to the ends themselves, a substitute and replacement, we forge a perfect and invincible political circle.

Trotsky only knew the half of it.  He was too good a soul to believe the ends should remain unquestioned.  Cameron, on the other hand, is about as devilish as they come: he’s removed all requirements to even define or track them.


So.  There you have it.

On the day the European Union has set aside to remind us of the deaths on our continent under the regimes of Stalin and Hitler, perhaps we ought to be reminding ourselves more constantly of more recent history.

There’s tons of it about, at the moment.  And as we’ve now all become publishers and potentially visible presences on the web, we’ve now all become potential threats to be seen with grand and terrifying suspicion.  So the moneyed and wealthy turn in on themselves, and replace societal intelligence with a profound belief in individualistic and self-rewarding process.

Was this always going to be the destiny of democracy?  Could even Trotsky have imagined where freedom’s instincts might lead us?

From fracking to national security, all they care about is the dosh.  Absolutely no politician in power right now cares about what the dosh does.  And that, my dear friends and virtual colleagues, is more than a matter of indubitable interest: it’s a tragedy of democratic integrity and representation, writ humongously large.

Aug 212013

The German magazine Spiegel Online truly held up a mirror to Cameron-land yesterday, when it titled its main news item thus:

Cameron und der Geheimdienst-Skandal: Im Land der schwarzen Helikopter

This is a reference to something I’m sure you’ve already read, contained in this report on recent events by the Guardian‘s editor, Alan Rusbridger:

[...] And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. “We can call off the black helicopters,” joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.

But whilst we could assume this is simply banter, even if of a rather macabre kind, in the light of David Miranda’s recent detention I’m inclined to think we’re actually witnessing the moment the British intelligence services really took social networks and media by the scruff of the neck.

You do stuff like this with journalists; you know it’ll eventually come out.  Some thoughts from this evening’s tweets to remind us all where we might now be ending up:

#QforGCHQ: why ask for #Miranda’s passwords if #MasteringTheInternet already masters the web? Or did you just need us to know you had them?

Funny, this turning public all previously private behaviour. Even stages, content & acts of interrogation become public. So, no act neutral.

Those conducting interrogations, these days, know they will become public. Manner conducted deliberately shaped to achieve maximum effect.

Our civil servants have learned from theatre of hate. They know private acts will seep into public consciousness, & acquire greater reality.

A game with reality: like films feel more real for being poorly shot, so acts against freedom of speech gain power when emerge bit by bit.

It’s not even “We don’t care if you find out”. Rather, it’s “We’re doing this in the full knowledge you’ll find out in *our* time”.

Curious how “web” was always historically associated with entrapment. And yet in the last decade we’ve launched ourselves onto it merrily.

@latentexistence I’m more interested in psychology of interrogation theatre: doing such stuff in private, knowing it’ll hit public domain.

@latentexistence The nature of the detention, its details, its phases, was effected in full knowledge we would all find out about it.

@latentexistence Greenwald & Miranda kinda got it wrong. They weren’t the people authorities were trying to frighten. It’s the rest of us.

Black-helicopter land?  You think I’m exaggerating?  Well, maybe I am.  Maybe I’m a little sensitive to such stuff.  As another sequence of tweets serves to explain:

Not looking forward to crossing the border into my own country. How did we ever reach a situation where the UK does that to its subjects?

@MILivesey Well quite. Used to go every summer to Communist Yugoslavia. Crossing the border was a nightmare. Country infused with paranoia.

@MILivesey Thinking about it *very* carefully, what Britain has become today is beginning to be cut from the same emotional cloth.

In essence, what I suggest is really happening here is that our authorities are learning hand over fist.  Whilst tying up Parliament and the offline world is pretty much par for the course – plenty of previous cases of similar instincts I’m sure we could find – the web is a far more slippery beast.  But controlling a beast doesn’t necessarily involve putting your dirty paws on it: sometimes, mind games, fear and shadow-boxing from afar achieve much much more.

This latter approach, then, I think is manifesting itself in the following ways:

  1. “Black-helicopter” humour – so beautifully quotable – is bound to seep out and frame the social networks: in this case, it’s even framed the mainstream.
  2. Stories about passwords being demanded with menaces – when it’s perfectly obvious GCHQ doesn’t need them to access the data it needs to save lives – simply serve to objectify and make closer to our own daily experiences the dangers of stepping out of line.
  3. Publicising for free in this way the wide-ranging powers of the police to hold individuals without explanation, and without rapid access to a lawyer, has done for the power of the instincts of the repressive state what would otherwise have cost the taxpayers in government advertising campaigns millions to get across.
  4. William Hague’s declarations a couple of months ago form part of this strategy: if you’re “law-abiding” (ie you follow the law, made by an evermore unrepresentative government, on behalf of its evermore tightly-defined interests), “you have nothing to fear”.  If, on the other hand, you don’t think like the government, you’re already a suspicious being – and, more likely than not, going to find yourself figuring on its active list.  And even if you’re not, the seeds of doubt are properly sown: the wariness, the hesitations of self-censorship, the having to live a normal life which requires you to keep your head down … all this means the government takes control again of public spaces and discourse.

One final tweet as a thought to be going away with:

Why do clever people act like bullies? ‘Cos their intelligence tells them they’re:
a) weak & wrong
b) running out of time
Voters take note.

Are you gonna take note then?

Shall we decide, battle and – ultimately – vote to reclaim our sovereign right, as subjects of a liberal democracy, to see each other treated with the respect we deserve?

To reclaim the public?

To not see borders as barricades put up by ministers and civil servants, incapable any longer of correctly serving?

To not be made to fear coming home any more?

Aug 202013

Wow!  A pretty miserable panorama.  Three stories I pick at random (not).  First, from 2010, the tying up of the House of Commons:

MPs will not be able to throw out the government unless at least 55% of them vote to do so, under plans agreed by the Conservatives and Lib Dems.

The move is part of plans agreed by the two parties to introduce five-year fixed-term parliaments.

An expert reaction at the time ran as follows:

Constitutional expert Peter Hennessy, of Queen Mary University of London University, told BBC News: “The tradition is that one [vote] is enough and I wouldn’t tinker with that. I would leave that well alone. It looks as if you are priming the pitch, doctoring it a bit. Not good. It’s meant to be a different politics, new politics.”

Under the deal with the Conservatives, Lib Dem MPs would be expected to vote with the government.

Second, from Sunday, the proposed banning – and perhaps even criminalisation – of organised extra-parliamentary action:

How will this gag work? At present the law restricts the spending of non-party groups on election campaigning. But the proposed law goes from providing reasonable rules to keep big money out of politics into a chilling attack on free speech.

Even informal local groups will be caught up in the new rules. Concerned about fracking in your village? Worried about proposals to close a hospital or build a road? Be very careful, you only have a limited ration of dissent in each constituency, and if you get overdrawn or even lose some receipts then you could face a police investigation. Are you a community group that organises a series of hustings but chooses to exclude extremist party candidates? Sorry, you are now considered to be election campaigners.

The bill, then, redefines what counts as electioneering. At present only materials and activities obviously targeted at shifting votes are capped. But anything that might change the mind of a voter will count as election campaigning in future. If you are critical of a government policy in the year before an election, that will count as election campaigning. If you are active against racism then you could be campaigning against far-right parties. Staff time will be included, so the wages of anyone who works on writing a critique of a policy or sends it to the media will count.

Finally, from today, Groklaw describes how the site can no longer continue under the unceasing revelations of permanent government surveillance (the bold is mine):

I hope that makes it clear why I can’t continue. There is now no shield from forced exposure. Nothing in that parenthetical thought list is terrorism-related, but no one can feel protected enough from forced exposure any more to say anything the least bit like that to anyone in an email, particularly from the US out or to the US in, but really anywhere. You don’t expect a stranger to read your private communications to a friend. And once you know they can, what is there to say? Constricted and distracted. That’s it exactly. That’s how I feel.

So. There we are. The foundation of Groklaw is over. I can’t do Groklaw without your input. I was never exaggerating about that when we won awards. It really was a collaborative effort, and there is now no private way, evidently, to collaborate.

I’m really sorry that it’s so. I loved doing Groklaw, and I believe we really made a significant contribution. But even that turns out to be less than we thought, or less than I hoped for, anyway. My hope was always to show you that there is beauty and safety in the rule of law, that civilization actually depends on it. How quaint.

As I sadly concluded only yesterday:

Yes.  This is indeed a police state.  A state which forgets so many of the lessons of the Nuremberg Trials.  A state which no longer believes in right and wrong but, instead, in legal and illegal.  [...]


When a Home Office spokesperson says it’s the police who must decide, and not Parliament nor appropriate individuals with the corresponding obligation to oversee what the police are doing, we know what – inside the Home Office – people really think.

And what they think is we already live a de facto police state.

This is, as I say above, a profound betrayal of what once could have been a secularism of real and ennobling choice.  But in the absence of that God who might look over and remind us of what we should do, we have this overriding anti-Nuremberg remittance to the concepts of legal and illegal above all.

We’ve forgotten entirely about those universal human rights.  Right and wrong have been substituted everywhere with very poor hand-me-down cousins.

Universal doesn’t exist any more.

So what does this game, set and Coalition match really consist of?  Well.  As far as I can see, several stages spread out over time:

  1. Ensure they have the House of Commons (ie ourselves) by the balls, by rewriting the rules in the strictest terms possible.
  2. Ensure our resulting urge to extra-parliamentary action in the offline world can only be conducted in terms of parliamentary rules, now rewritten.
  3. Ensure, through several means and tools (from virtual porn filters which knock out blogs like my own to libel actions that chill a wider population into a distracted self-censoring half-silence), that extra-parliamentary action in the online world is so controlled by government and state-security apparatuses as to make it virtually impossible to speak your mind without feeling you might, by association, incriminate your readers, commenters, friends and followers.

That’s it, isn’t it?  The beginning of the end.  You have no representation in Parliament worth talking about; your right to organise outside Parliament is to likely be criminalised; and, finally, even your late-night and oft-disparaged blogged meanderings must eventually be discouraged in one way or another.

For it’s quite clear, as I also suggested yesterday, that a democracy which spreads crap liberally around is anything but a liberal democracy.

We used to strive so hard to be the latter.  These days, we do little more than suppurate as the former.

In so many ways and at so many levels, this is a direct and premeditated attack on 21st century participatory instincts and environments.  An attack on the natural direction of history.  An attack on everything our universally educated population was led to expect.  And if this is to be game, set and Coalition match, by its very nature we can equally see it’s going to be anything but cricket.

Aug 202013

The BBC concludes a quite lavish report on David Miranda’s detention for the maximum nine hours at a London airport with this amazing admission from the Home Office:

The Home Office said: “Schedule 7 forms an essential part of the UK’s security arrangements – it is for the police to decide when it is necessary and proportionate to use these powers.”

So there you have it – in black and white.  The Home Office finally admitting it’s not for the people via Parliament to decide when powers are necessary and proportionate but, rather, the police on what appears to be a fairly ad hoc basis.  Here we have the police version, from the same report:

The Met Police said the use of the Terrorism Act to detain Mr Miranda was “legally and procedurally sound”.


He was detained under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This allows police to hold someone at an airport, port or international rail station for up to nine hours for questioning about whether they have been involved with acts of terrorism.

But the BBC’s own security correspondent raises the following issue of legislation creep:

Another controversy will be over the stretching of counter-terrorism powers for something which doesn’t look like it has anything to do with terrorism. Powers are often justified on the basis of stopping terrorist attacks. But what will the reaction be when they are used for something else?

This afternoon I found myself driving the following train of thought:

Arrests like Miranda’s are markers in the sand. Show how sad our state of law has become. Just ‘cos it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s justified.

We’ve reached a state where politicos & corp leaders shield themselves in legality, forgetting what’s right & wrong. Betrayal of secularism.

Am sad that people who work with laws believe their written manifestations overtake broader universal values. History begins to repeat, no?

Choice we have is between piling content into cloud, so avoiding need to take gadgets to frontiers, or keeping it confiscateably on gadgets.

Either way, privacy becomes a privilege and a premium; the preserve of those who have the resources and connections to maintain it.

And from Facebook on a separate story from New Zealand:

Oh that’s really quite awful. It mirrors so much in the UK. is there nowhere in the world where politicians and corporate leaders value universal truths over the spiteful letter of the law?

Yes.  This is indeed a police state.  A state which forgets so many of the lessons of the Nuremberg Trials.  A state which no longer believes in right and wrong but, instead, in legal and illegal.  A state which is configuring itself for the following reasons:

  1. Those in power know the future.
  2. Those in power know they are incapable of delivering the future we – and they – know we deserve.
  3. Those in power fear for themselves.
  4. In order to properly protect themselves, those in power need to plunder our resources and nation-states before our very eyes without us clearly understanding what is happening.
  5. The easiest way to control people like ourselves and hide such a reality from us is to reserve the right to detain us without explaining why; to detain us without explaining why; and to frighten us without explaining why.
  6. Terrorism does exist, that is true – and it is a most fearful beast.  But it’s even more fearful when you add your own sliver of it into the mix in such a way so people like ourselves don’t know if it’s terrorism that hurts or our own nation-state.
  7. Totally disorientated, totally confused, totally unable to see the future with any degree of clarity, people like ourselves do not perceive how the threat of terrorism is being abused in order that those in power can strengthen not our bulwarks against our very real pain but their bulwarks against their very real fears.

When a Home Office spokesperson says it’s the police who must decide, and not Parliament nor appropriate individuals with the corresponding obligation to oversee what the police are doing, we know what – inside the Home Office – people really think.

And what they think is we already live a de facto police state.

This is, as I say above, a profound betrayal of what once could have been a secularism of real and ennobling choice.  But in the absence of that God who might look over and remind us of what we should do, we have this overriding anti-Nuremberg remittance to the concepts of legal and illegal above all.

We’ve forgotten entirely about those universal human rights.  Right and wrong have been substituted everywhere with very poor hand-me-down cousins.

Universal doesn’t exist any more.

All that exists is the Home Office’s reliance on weasel-worded declarations which abdicate all responsibility for running the country on behalf of its citizens.

So what on earth do we need our politicians for?  Why not do away with them altogether?

Live our lives, instead, under the empty obfuscating Kafkaesque instincts that Schedule 7 so perfectly exemplifies.  Even write more of the same.  Spread the crap liberally (this is, after all, a liberal democracy) to as many other countries as there are peoples.

Either that, of course, or – alternatively – choose to remember and commemorate Nuremberg itself: remember and commemorate the millions who died whilst people went through the motions of being “legal”.

This is the real fascism.

This is the day we hit rock bottom.

Not what the police did – but how that Home Office spokesperson reacted.

Aug 092013

Yesterday, I stumbled across this article from 2012 on the web of El País in English.  It provides a beautifully concise theory for why the Spanish political class – and almost certainly our political class too – is messing everything up for almost everyone (except, of course, itself).  In its introduction, it argues that any such theory must answer the following questions:

1. How is it possible that five years after the crisis began, no political party has a coherent diagnosis of what is going on in Spain?

2. How is it possible that no political party has a credible long-term plan or strategy to pull Spain out of the crisis? How is it possible that Spain’s political class seems genetically incapable of planning?

3. How is it possible that Spain’s political class is incapable of setting an example? How is it possible that nobody – except the king and for personal motives at that – has ever apologized for anything?

4. How is it possible the most obvious strategy for a better future – improving education, encouraging innovation, development and entrepreneurship, and supporting research – is not just being ignored, but downright massacred with spending cuts by the majority parties?

The answer would seem, equally concisely, to lie in these eye-opening words (the bold is mine):

[...] Spain’s political class has not only turned itself into a special interest group, like air traffic controllers for example; it has taken a step further and formed an extractive elite in the sense given to this term by Acemoglu and Robinson in their recent and already famous book Why Nations Fail. An extractive elite is defined by:

“Having a rent-seeking system which allows, without creating new wealth, for the extraction of rent from a majority of the population for one’s own benefit.”

“Having enough power to prevent an inclusive institutional system – in other words, a system that distributes political and economic power broadly, that respects the rule of law and free market rules.”

It also despises what Schumpeter calls “creative destruction” (again, the bold is mine):

[...] “creative destruction is the process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” Innovation tends to create new centers of power, and that’s why it is detested.

Anyone who’s been at all aware of stuff that’s been going down of late, almost anywhere in Western civilisation, will not find it difficult to come up with examples of our politicians a) extracting rent from the majority of the population; and b) circumventing the rule of law and free market rules.  In Britain, we have the programmed privatisation of the NHS, education and Legal Aid to Tory Party business sponsors; we have socialism for the rich benefiting the banking services industry at the expense of ordinary people’s financial security; we have the dubious treatment of the disabled, sick and poor at the hands of an awful Department of Work and Pensions, apparently interested only in washing its hands of all former and once cross-party responsibilities; we have the possibly illegal pursuit of migrant populations and communities in London, as institutional racism takes to the streets with Home Office approval; and we have the substitution of evidence-based policy-making with that of prejudice-driven think tanks, political outriders various and those who clearly want to return us to some kind of moral Dark Ages.

This, then, isn’t just a question of Southern European Spanish corruption, tainting the modernity of an otherwise constructive Anglo-Saxon century.  No.  From Obama’s extra-judicial drone killings to the German state’s collaboration in the worldwide transfer and exchange of Internet surveillance data to the UK’s destruction of sensible British socialism to the pork-barrelled corporate takeover (with, it has to be admitted, the connivance of all political players) of food supplies, water provision, energy development, communications technology and news diffusion to a series of secretive copyright and patent implementation treaties which principally benefit incumbent business rather than a wider economy, it’s clear that politicians and their sponsors have become a plague of extractive elites on all our houses – disregarding in the main a shared rule of law, the virtues of a truly free market and the needs of anyone but themselves.

Anything we can do about it?  I’m really not sure.  But maybe being able to put a name to the problem is a useful first step.  You may conclude the bastards are the people or you may conclude the bastards are the systems – but either way, you have to agree that, whatever the reason, the real scroungers, skivers and freeloaders here are the political classes themselves, not the voters they cruelly live off.

Whether they live in Southern Europe, see themselves a cut above the PIGS or occupy imposingly self-regarding superpower democracies, they’re all – ultimately – in the same game.  That, finally, is clear enough – even if everything else may still be a mite obscure.  And now we have a properly accurate label to define this game better, perhaps we can now proceed to deal with it just as ably.

Once you’ve identified the enemy, you may begin to work out ways of defeating it.

Or, alternatively, redeeming it.

If that’s what floats your boat.

Aug 052013

This is how it should work:

  1. People who love each other decide to give birth to/adopt/foster a child.
  2. They look to bring up that child the best they can.
  3. The state as socialising force and enabler of voter and business interests creates policies that facilitate such instincts.
  4. The parents in question – along with the schools, health services and other support systems various that everyone’s taxes are paying for – help bring into the world and the wider economy all those future citizens, imagineers, technologists, workers and consumers.
  5. The grand corporations willingly pay their taxes in good faith, recognising the fact that roads, communications infrastructures and support services for workforces – as well as the aforementioned systems various which bring into the world their future consumers and markets – all need duly and adequately paying for.
  6. As the young offspring of those willing and valued parents grow up into a society of the socialising, the desire to contribute to a mutually beneficial cycle and circle of life is reproduced both in them and their future instincts to procreate, adopt and foster another generation and humanity of similar behaviours.
  7. Everyone benefits.  Everyone grows.  Everyone learns how to help everyone else.

This is how it actually works:

  1. People who love each other decide to give birth to/adopt/foster a child.
  2. They look to bring up that child the best they can.
  3. The state as de-socialising force and exclusive enabler of corrupting business interests creates policies that make such instincts evermore difficult to implement.
  4. The parents in question – along with the schools, health services and other support systems various which fewer and fewer people and companies’ taxes are paying for – strive with great difficulty to bring into the world and the wider economy future citizens, imagineers, technologists, workers and consumers.
  5. The grand corporations – more and more enthusiastically – avoid and evade paying their taxes, recognising the fact that it is good business to freeload off the backs of their consumers and markets the cost of roads, communications infrastructures and support services for workforces – as well as the aforementioned systems various which bring into the world their future consumers.
  6. As the young offspring of those struggling and devalued parents grow up into a society of the de-socialising, the desire to contribute to a mutually beneficial cycle and circle of life is lost both to them and their future instincts to procreate, adopt and foster another generation and humanity of similar behaviours.
  7. Everyone – except the rich – loses out.  Everyone – except the rich – struggles.  Everyone – except the rich – understands how different everything could be, if only it worked how it should.

Aug 042013

As a rule, politicians in representative democracies look to get the edge on the opposition – though generally within the framework of certain traditions.  Whether these be written or unwritten constitutions, the weight of the past bears heavily on their actions.

As, I think, probably it should.

Even as sometimes we find such traditions a tad frustrating.

The most successful business leaders, on the other hand, tend to throw tradition (as well as, occasionally, caution) to the winds, as they look to upset the applecarts of received behaviours and squeeze potentially humongous competition out of their markets.

In both circumstances, of course, a certain degree of astute cunning operates – and people far better than me have suggested we mustn’t confuse political or business cunning with intelligence.  Which brings me to the point of tonight’s post: is there any chance – even at a subconscious level – that leaders in all sorts of sectors (especially the less clearly qualified ones) are fighting a desperate rearguard action against the most highly educated workforce and voting constituency in history?

Where, for example, are the degree and certificate that demonstrate you’re properly of CEO-type material?  What course of learning and titled proof provides you with the certainty you’re up to the job of MP or Secretary of State?

How, in fact, can these kinds of people ever know they’re as clever, intelligent and well-read as their minions?  Unless, of course, they treat their minions as precisely that: minions to be looked down on; minions to be managed; minions whose buttons must be eternally pressed.

Out of intolerance of others, we gain a certain confidence.  Out of disrespect, we gain a certain strategic advantage.  Out of dislike, we gain the ability to do things we perhaps shouldn’t.  Out of hatred, we gain the skillset necessary for things far worse than that.

And I suspect that some of the previous paragraph is what is operating now in our politics and business life.  Where most politicians were once bound by some tradition, a substantial minority (the most relevant minority, maybe we could say) now throws precedent out the window of voter consideration.  Trained up in the revolving doors of that political/business nexus, why should we be surprised any longer that elected representatives behave like cavaliers?  That, after all, is what business leaders have learned brings results.  That, after all, is the definition of success.

We can no longer separately focus on politics if we wish to be a politician: we must accept the impact of Big Money on everything we do.  Similarly, business leaders are obliged to involve themselves just as fully: they must accept the impact of Big Politics on everything they manufacture.

We really need a new word here – a new terminology to cement the nexus I describe.

How about “Big Monelitics”?

A quick Google brings up a Nigerian entry from 2004, so the instinct I express isn’t in any way – how could it be? – unique to our Western shores.

Really, what’s happened here is the cavalier nature of corporate managerialism has been let loose on the moderately, in the end usefully, hidebound nature of our traditional politicking.  All we are left with now is a systemic economic terrorism where the figurative rape of anything and everything monetisable is a simple par for the course.

Big Monelitics, then?  Is that where we’re at?  A low-level residual war of civil constituencies – waged more and more by the powerful on the powerless?

If it is thus, if austerity is just a lever to the former’s increasing wealth, if there is really no good faith left any more inside our representative democracy, isn’t it time we began to consider how to deconstruct the intolerable rack of Big Monelitics – how to deconstruct the figurative rape I mention of that anything and everything sadly monetisable?

The monetisable bit being you and me, of course.

The monetisable bit being our finite and perishable lives.

Aug 042013

Coincidentally, I was nattering about evil versus ordinary the other day on Facebook.  Some extracts from my side of the exchange:

Ordinary people, I mean. If only ordinary people ruled the world. Is it a condition of being ordinary that one cannot rule?

My daughter once commented on the word “extraordinary”: she argued (without knowing the etymology) that “extraordinary people” were actually “especially ordinary people”. Surely, somewhere in our history, there are cases of the most ordinary being simultaneously the most glorious, without losing their prior condition.

Not my definition of ordinary. I’d use the word “evil” for that. Maybe “casually evil”. Not to distance such acts from myself, since I’m aware we’re all capable of evil, but instead to distinguish them from what we should aspire to. Ordinary, right now, is everything that doesn’t involve the people who’ve caused this crisis. And extraordinary is the capacity of such ordinary people to survive all the shit that continues to be thrown at them. I walked past a man today who was digging through the rubbish container next to the local supermarket. He was clearly looking for food. I’d call *him* extraordinary.

[...] I think I’m saying I’m aware human beings can contain a number of incompatibilities. I recognise my capacity to be evil *and* ordinary, and by so doing can resist the temptation to be the former better. [...]

Can’t say it clearer than that, though am happy to stand corrected (as, indeed, my FB contrincante left me stood the other day).

And whilst Chris covers something of the same ground here, equally coincidentally, in relation to perceiving wrong and perceiving evil, Rob concisely discusses the dreadful situation in Italy and Spain at the moment here.  Where I disagree with him most strongly is in one of his concluding paragraphs (the bold is mine):

All the while, some of us in the UK are still incandescent about MPs overclaiming their expenses, while others claim the incumbent government is “evil”. But the wrongdoers over expenses were rightly punished, and proportionately; the government is wrong, not evil.

And so I thought for a while too.  Until I stopped thinking so, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary (the bold is mine today):

Where the Tories are rankly wrong, however, and here Labour is still nowhere on the ball nor sufficiently appreciative of the error, is in not following up their initial analysis with a cogent and consequential train of thought: if we are to reduce the cost of benefits to the state, we also need to reduce the cost of living to the people (or, alternatively, increase the wages they earn); if we need to make cheaper a whole raft of processes, we need to ensure this doesn’t cheapen our moral take on society; if we want to convince people that opportunities are out there, success shouldn’t be defined only in monetary terms; and if society is to move forward in truly good faith, we must not only stop the corporate cancer of profiteering injustice – a cancer which incidentally the Tories currently depend greatly on for their funding – but also actively enable a proper and fair understanding of societal justice.

That Tories are only prepared to contemplate implementing the half of the equation which benefits their corporate sponsors, at terrible cost to over fifty percent of the British population in the round, doesn’t make them only wrong – it also makes them evil.  Evil in the sense that we are all capable of such evil; evil in the sense that we can be unconsciously capable of committing such evil; evil in the sense that unless we realise the former … well, we will surely be guilty of the latter.

There are none so evil as they who believe they know what is best for us.

None so evil as those who – rather than allow us to speak, act and engineer for ourselves – prefer to crusade from privileged top down, on our supposedly radical behalf.

A Very Political Evil.

A Very Tory Evil, in fact.

For you were right, you fearsome socialists of old.  The Tories, when unleashed, become evil incarnate.

Aug 012013

I’ve noticed over the past couple of weeks a growing cynicism in my public expressions.  I’m currently on holiday, so you’d hardly expect it.  That Cameron wishes to limit our access to the Internet even as his mates in the security services are increasing theirs may have nothing – or everything – to do with it.

This morning, however, I felt I outdid even my most recent outpourings in this radically unhappy tweet:

So fracker corps will end up poisoning our water table in order that water corps may hike the price of the bottled stuff. #symbiosis

What’s behind such gross bad faith on my part?  What drives me to make such wearisome connections?  Where’s the good in even trying?

Interesting questions, all.

And I am reminded of an experience I had a couple of years before I left the banking corporation I previously worked for.  In 2008, it was forcibly taken over by another banking corporation of similar size, as a result of the broader financial crisis which assailed us all that year.  Whilst our corporation had spent a lot of time and energy implementing the concept of leadership at all levels, the one which took us over had a far more traditionally American view (as I think befitted its CEO of the time) of how hierarchies should be organised.  In this case, the index they used to measure employee satisfaction was termed “engagement”.

Essentially, how closely identified employees were with everything the company allegedly stood for.

So it was that engagement surveys became the flavour of the quarter.  Everyone had to do them.  In some cases (not my department’s I hasten to add), it was said that bosses looked over employee shoulders to ensure the right answers were given.  In other cases (yes, here my department was guilty), chocolate bars were strategically located next to the workstations in question in order to encourage buen rollo.  Of course, the reason for all this dysfunctional behaviour was because the results of the surveys were tied to our bosses’ KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) – and therefore, inevitably, to their yearly bonuses.  Who wouldn’t, under such circumstances, try to influence the aforementioned surveys?

Bosses, after all, are only human.

Even where mere Level 1 workers must strive (robotically) not to be.

Anyhow, in the first year or so of the new regime’s existence, engagement ratings went quickly through the roof.  Whilst the trades unions transmitted one kind of message from the grapevine and grassroots, management got quite another impression of what was happening.  They, quite naturally, were delighted with their data – and promptly proceeded to ignore the perceptions of the unions.

It took another year or so before the misfit between survey-land and reality became even moderately clear to the executives.

So why do I mention all the above today?  Because it’s a clear example of the slow but sure extinction of engagement.  And it’s a dangerous extinction to boot.  Partly because the people best placed to resolve the issues are the people most blind to them.  Partly because the damage done to worker morale, trust and good faith is so difficult and costly to repair.

Looked at more widely, then, it seems to me that our society is going through a similar process.  While popular acquiescence to government diktat and corporate imposition makes those at the top believe they can get away with anything, and whilst sales figures and opinion polls show little dramatic change, deep down under the surface of public perception, not even publicly commented on any more, a desultory resignation is taking hold.

A huge and destructively long-term process of disengagement has been initiated.  Only an omniscient figure of economically God-like proportions can predict, right now, where it will lead us in the end.

I am not that figure.

But I can tell you, right now, that if banking corporations are anything to go by, society’s spying on the answers we give on the one hand and the cheeky provision of branded bribes on the other can only lead our shakers and makers to a place of massive misunderstanding.

The slow but sure extinction of engagement leaves behind it little DNA to recover the species.

Engagement isn’t a woolly mammoth but, rather, a thoughtful and fragile indicator of human interaction.

And no amount of chocolate bars will make such interaction any more real – even as they may serve, for a while, to soften the sorry blow of societal deception.