Aug 272013
 
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Jamie Oliver definitely has his wallet in the right place.  Chris summarises some of the arguments for and against here.  In particular, concluding thus:

Agency, in any fullish sense of the word, requires particular conditions which are only rarely met. What robs the poor of dignity – to use Peter’s phrase – is not my pointing out the degree to which they lack free will, but rather the existence of those social conditions that limit it.

I tweeted it rather less gently here:

Don’t have probs with being imaginative with stale bread. Do have probs if you need to do so ‘cos the rich are buggering up the economy.

And here:

A fucking massive TV is probably about the price of a night out at the theatre/opera/races for top chefs & society bods like Jamie Oliver.

I shouldn’t, of course, have lost my rag.

After all, it’s not how much you have but – rather – what you do with it, right?

The body of a homeless man who was crushed to death after dustmen emptied the wheelie bin he was sleeping in into their lorry has been found at a Wirral recycling plant.

It is thought the 50-year-old man climbed into the large wheelie bin the night before.

(More cases, if you care enough to read, can be found by clicking here.)

Anyhow, I thought that today – in the light of all the above – I’d regale you with the interview I would have liked Radio Times to have conducted with Jamie Oliver.  Hope it makes you think.  We all need to – and sharpish:

Me: Hello mate!

JO: Fucking fantastic, bro!

[We both brush fringes - mine yonks ago receded, his still vibrantly attacking - away from our respectively magnificent foreheads.]

JO: Have a Spanish breadstick.  Does wonders for your wallet.

Me: ¡Gracias, hombre! My wallet needs a bit of help.

JO: Ever eaten real Spanish food?

Me: Sure have.  Whenever I go to Spain.  Mediterranean diet.  Extra virgin olive oil.  Lentils.  Acorn-fed pigs.  Seafood.  Pescado azul.  Pimentón.  Burgos cheese.  Tomatoes.  Onions.  Lettuce.  Citrus fruit.

JO: Whoa!  Hey!  Cool, man!  Right on!  Have a drizzle of aceite on your barra!

Me: Biscuits.  Magdalena cakes.  Torrefacto coffee.  Chocolate drink.  Churros.  Chuminadas de todo tipo. 

[I continue with a tad of mala leche.]

Me: Haribo.  Coca-Cola.  Pepsi.  McDonald’s.  Burger King.  KFC.  Pizza Hut …

[JO frowns for a calculated moment under his cooperative haircut.]

JO: Yeah.  But that’s just the younger generation.

Me:  Well.  The younger generation which lives in Spain probably still eats half decently.  The younger generation which has had to leave Spain – ‘cos there aren’t any jobs for the fifty percent who are now unemployed – now eats like the rest of us when we’re not in Spain: which is to say, like corporate shit.

[Another studied frown from JO comes my way.  Not that he ever gives up.]

JO: Anyhow.  If you know how to eat right, with a min of dosh you’ll eat right whatever.

Me: Hey, man!  Right on the button!

JO: Yup!  You bet!  Nothing like being right on the button to jack up those book sales save the nation from itself.

Me: But what if you’ve spent the past thirty years in a country where food corporations of dubious quality have posted thousands of monthly messages at your latch-key kids, whilst you’re out the home working your bloody socks off on a miserable minimum wage?

JO: Spend more time at home.  Hey!  Lifestyle change, caballero.  Your choice.  You don’t need that TV.  You don’t need that phone.  You don’t need that tablet.  You don’t need that dishwasher.  You don’t need that washing-machine.  You don’t need that microwave.  You don’t need that cooker.  You don’t need that central-heating boiler.  You don’t need that hot and cold running-water.  In fact, you don’t even need that roof over your head.

[My turn to frown.  Even so, I decide to ask the obvious question.]

Me: So, dear mate Jamie, what do I need?

JO: All you need, dear mate Mil, is FOOD, FOOD, FOOD!

[And thus, here endeth the interview.  As well as my confusion about JO's real underlying motives.]

If truth be told, Mr Oliver may think he acts out of the very best of intentions.  But the world is strewn with the results of well-meaning individuals.  Nothing worse in politics and biz than the pig-headed certainties of those who look only forwards.

Mr Oliver thinks the solution to poverty lies, in part, in teaching the poor to ignore the overwhelming weight of discourse of a hugely consumerist society.  He’s right here, of course.  This is something we cannot deny.  But we shouldn’t start with food habits themselves.  We should start with the kind of people who cleverly identify a niche in the humongous cookery book market and look to exploit it with controversial allusions (“Let them eat stale bread!”) to an apocryphal Marie Antoinette.

Yes.  The poor do need to rid themselves of the exhortations of the rich to consume more and more.  So why couldn’t he just come out of the closet and admit that capitalism is broken?

Why all this coded language?  Why all this focussing on a small part of the pyramid of needs?  Why all this reducing the scope of the poor in Western society to behaving more efficiently in relation to the base needs of breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis and excretion?

We do still have excretion, right?

That is still a right of the poor, I take it.


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Aug 232013
 
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I was chided last night on Twitter for retweeting this story from the Independent, as it might serve to threaten the lives of telecom engineers in the field.  I replied by saying I found it difficult to evaluate the situation either way.  As I pointed out recently, I get the feeling we’re being played with by people who otherwise should limit themselves to serving the voters and their families.

Meanwhile, the Guardian‘s journalist at the eye of this storm today responds thus to the above story:

[...] The question is: who provided them this document or the information in it? It clearly did not come from Snowden or any of the journalists with whom he has directly worked. The Independent provided no source information whatsoever for their rather significant disclosure of top secret information. Did they see any such documents, and if so, who, generally, provided it to them? I don’t mean, obviously, that they should identify their specific source, but at least some information about their basis for these claims, given how significant they are, would be warranted. One would think that they would not have published something like this without either seeing the documents or getting confirmation from someone who has: the class of people who qualify is very small, and includes, most prominently and obviously, the UK government itself.

Just to summarise and clarify: serious accusations are being made that the British security establishment is not only looking to fulfil its rightful responsibility of protecting the British people from external and internal threat, but is also messing around – quite unreasonably I would argue – with the public’s perception of reality and its proper course.  The former is quite sustainable, of course; the latter I would submit is most unacceptable in all cases – and probably a symptom of weakness rather than strength.

We pay our security establishment to protect us from physical harm.  We don’t pay them to play silly buggers with our understanding of where the truth lies.  When the aforementioned establishment thinks it can lash out at anyone and everyone in the interests of keeping the lid on all these unpleasant situations, we have an equally unpleasant problem presenting itself in what is now a very public domain: our security services find as threatening to their sense of wellbeing and focus our own 21st century social-media and virtual inquisition as they do the beastly things which nasty people are planning to do, every day of the week.

The job of the security services shouldn’t need to cover playing mind games with the nation’s perceptions.  We are, after all, ultimately, their paymasters.  We should not be perceived as the enemy.  Our representative democracy should be efficient enough in the task of representation to make the contemplation of repressive response totally unnecessary.

And if it’s not, that’s then a symptom that something is going very wrong with the mechanisms of our democracy.

That our security services do feel they must play to the gallery, as they allegedly leak information when it pleases them, is bad for our sense of equanimity of course – but, equally, it’s bad for the efficiency of those who would defend the integrity of the nations that make up our state.  If instead of focussing on sifting through all the information they’ve gathered on us, they choose to expend all that energy on massaging and manipulating our attitudes to their labour, they’re bound to be wasting a helluva lot of time and money on what is little more than a rolling PR operation.  And it”s not even as if they’re any good at it.  As the Atlantic piece I linked to above underlines:

[...] Given how ham-handedly the NSA has handled PR as each document was exposed, it seems implausible that it wanted advance knowledge so it could work on a response. It’s been two months since the first Snowden revelation, and it still doesn’t have a decent PR story.

In this sense it would seem that the NSA, GCHQ and the rest of the security bundle have been attacked by the same malaise that affects corporate organisations all over the globe: first, keep it secret at all costs; second, if you can’t keep it secret, deny it; third, if you can’t deny it, find some dirt on the enemy; fourth, if finding dirt doesn’t work, pay the enemy off; and fifth, if paying the enemy off doesn’t work, put it all in the hands of a platoon of lawyers.

And if all that fails, put it in the hands of an advertising agency with a solid reputation in rebranding.

No wonder David Cameron is our Prime Minister.  It’s quite fitting that an adman should be running a government whose security services practically own our airwaves at the moment.

No attempt or desire to deal with stuff at all correctly.  Just a continuous and ongoing attempt to brazen their way out of the hole they’ve stupidly gone and dug themselves.

Getting to the point where these guys and gals would appear to be more worried about how we see them than they are about the reality of defending Queen & Country.

Getting to the point where we can only expect a 21st century version of the Spanish Inquisition:

Various motives have been proposed for the monarchs’ decision to found the Inquisition such as increasing political authority, weakening opposition, suppressing conversos, profiting from confiscation of the property of convicted heretics, reducing social tensions and protecting the kingdom from the danger of a fifth column.

Though I’m sure I’m wrong, of course.  As I’m just as sure none of the following sketch bears any relevance to the above.


http://youtu.be/vt0Y39eMvpI


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Aug 092013
 
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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.


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Aug 042013
 
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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.


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Jul 302013
 
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Twitter, navel-gazer extraordinaire that it can be, has been kind of skirting around the subject of the abuse of women on its virtual networks and connections.  Ben wrote it up well over at Speaker’s Chair recently – you might want to read his piece before we continue.

Other women have also been abused on the back of this case.  Mind you, it’s true to say that abuse is par for the course these days: the political establishment is sanctioning in their droves offences against the rights of people with support needs various, as the so-called bedroom tax drives home the British state’s ever-increasing fascist tendencies.

Meanwhile, Rolling Stone reports speedily on the Bradley Manning verdict.  As Amnesty is quoted as concluding:

“It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that Manning’s trial was about sending a message,” Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International, said in a statement. “The U.S. government will come after you, no holds barred, if you’re thinking of revealing evidence of its unlawful behavior.”

Finally, it will hardly have escaped your attention that a certain father-in-law has argued that outside the Home Counties – that is to say, outside the heartlands of Tory support (more here) – fracking should be given its wild and unpredictable head.

And so it is that the despicable procedure by which certain people in society are being made more and more invisible – through the machinations of those powerful men and women who manage our mainstream discourses (as well as via a political process of societal cleaning) – marches clearly, fiercely and determinedly on.

From the online abuse of women to the casual abuse of the disabled to the Realpolitik-like effluences of countries like the US, countries which we thought – after fighting the corruption of Communist repression for so many bitter years – would have surely been able to strive towards something much wiser than this, I don’t half get the feeling that the invisibility I mention above has vigorously and ultimately defeated the indivisibility that once characterised Western civilisation.

Nothing remains of that world I was brought up in: that kiddies’ world where little Ladybird books taught my nascent soul that society was there to make our planet a safer and more supportive place; where people would form part of an intricate web of constructive interaction; where life was a forwards and upwards trend to less unhappy being.

Instead, all we get is the rich shitting brazenly on the poor; the foul-mouthed shitting brazenly on the discreet; the aggressive beating back the compliant; the noisy shouting down – where not utterly shutting down – the absolutely respectful.

It is the primitive law of the jungle to which civilisation has gravitated: for this civilisation we worked so hard to erect has become a phallic symbol of those who would trample with their stupidities the sensibilities of the intelligent and educated.  Thus it is that on the back of our hard work, the powerful have hijacked my childhood world of Ladybird-book collaboration – and turned our tools of wider empowerment violently and finally against us.

It should have been a question of that indivisibility I’ve already alluded to: a total solidarity of latterday wisdoms.

It’s become a reality of that invisibility I’ve already described: a total absence of those very same latterday wisdoms, as solidarity becomes a sarcastic wail of the most cruel.

Intelligent and committed women suffering death threats; people with support needs being made to pay for the crimes of the billion-dollar fraudsters; disconnected privileged white men who want to deflower the natural beauty of places they care so little about; whistleblowers who cause violent perturbations in the body politic of sovereign democratic states by simply revealing the illegalities committed in the name of such democracies … all these things – and far far more – just go to show how the rich have turned the achievements of the 21st century against us.

And perhaps only the threat of further perturbations will now have any chance of making these evil evil people think twice; think again; think before they lose the entire bloody plot.

Before they allow the plot that was once all our stories to become a sadly bottomless burial ground – a burial ground for the ever-so-foolishly trusting 99 percent we still attempt to be, and who they now would appear to possess in our entirety.


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Jul 262013
 
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Paul reports today on how his post on porn got blocked for using too many sensitive terms.  It reminds me of one time I was giving Spanish evening classes to adults in our local school, and I attempted to access my Spanish Blogger-based blog.  The crudest of filters threw me summarily out as it argued, by virtue of its being a blog, that what I was trying to see was adult-related material.

As if in a civilisation of the universally educated adult-related material should mean what it unhappily does.

I’m pretty sure, right now, that this blogsite you are reading at the moment is now coming under the control of more and more automated filters out there.  If for no other reason than this post from earlier in the year, where I argue that governments should invest in the training-up of willing sex workers in the skills of CGI porn:

A suggestion then.  Not just a rant.  Maybe it’s time for a new kind of content.  Given that the instinct for sex is about as old as Adam and Eve’s adult teeth, has anyone considered CGI porn as a wider solution to sexual exploitation – and its corresponding abuse of power – which so many people currently find themselves affected by?

How would this work?  Groups of existing sex workers could form officially-sanctioned cooperatives with the right to apply for government-funded training courses.  These courses would serve to train them up in computer-generated film-making.  There would, of course, be strict control over the content – a kind of Hays Code for our time.  Just because the content was computer-generated wouldn’t give the creators the right to reproduce and duplicate in the virtual world the kind of abusive relationships we were aiming to eliminate in real life.

In such a way, the whole balance of power would be altered.  Sex workers could find a gainful living as unexploited, and unexploiting, generators of porn; porn users would be safely educated away from the violent stuff through a plentiful, cheap and consistently benign exposure to non-violent (perhaps even government-subsidised) narrative; and, most importantly, the Internet could then be properly policed as per the canons of the code in question.

A quaint idea; a curate’s egg of an idea admittedly.  But surely, at the very least, an idea which deserves to generate others.

I did, of course, go on to point out the following (the bold is mine today):

Obviously, there would still be significant and unresolved issues: people would almost certainly, for example, not find it easy to agree even on a definition of non-violent porn.  But nothing was ever solved by an overbearing awareness of the challenges.

Which brings me to my main point this evening, and the reason why I feel strongly enough to nail my flag to the mast of unpopular observations.  You cannot reasonably block anything if you don’t know – if you cannot agree on – what you are blocking.  Porn is like the word “love”.  Who knows what we mean when we use it?  For someone like my mother, it’s anything ever-so-mildly salacious.  For me, it’s simply the recording and/or transmission of non-personal sexual acts where power has been used to abuse some or all of the participants.  As I’ve said on numerous occasions, if we’re against the abuse of sex, we should be against the abuse of power.  The one and the other should coincide in our civilisation, and fiercely coincide too.  That populist politicians choose to criticise and damn the former even as they continue to exhibit behaviours plagued by the latter is simply one more example of the hypocrisy that infuses public debate these days.

To be honest, given that the term “porn” is one of shifting goalposts, of shifting points of view, it’s clear that anyone of a medium intellect who honestly and sincerely believes in its automatic filtering is prepared, just as honestly and sincerely, to give up on civilisation’s greatest quality: that of allowing without a pre-moderation the expression and development of surprising and unpredictable trains of thought.  Without the brilliant men and women who were prepared to ask questions before knowing their destination, we would not know be in a position where we feel we had to censor a communication environment such as the worldwide web in the first place.

Porn, its prevalence, its cost to society, only exists because of beautiful minds across the globe.  And if we now choose to protect our children and our peoples from the nastiness of violent porn through automated systems which landgrab anything and everything in their path, in a sense we are doing nothing more than those who used to catch fish with nets that also trapped dolphins.

If you don’t believe in gratuitous dolphin fishery, why then do you believe in gratuitous content fishery?

If you don’t believe in stopping developing minds from toying with ideas, why then do you believe in cutting off access to a blogsite simply because it uses some terminology in order to talk about a subject you deplore?

And if you don’t believe in allowing Middle Eastern dictatorships to continue imposing their definition of appropriate speech on their citizens, to the extent you are even prepared to spend trillions of dollars on going to war against them, why can’t you contemplate chasing down the pornography you despise on a piece-by-piece basis instead of dishing the dirt on a whole society’s thoughts and ideas?

I really do feel, have never felt more strongly than now, that it’s time to campaign in favour of speech porn.  Anything, everything, all political, social and cultural DNA – however unpleasant.  For if we do not draw this marker in the sand right now, so many outlets like my humble little blogsite, lightly peppered with articles about the subject of porn, will soon become other casualties of those who care little for true free speech: governments which lie; ministers who abuse their power; policemen and women who sully the good name of their profession; journalists who hack for a living; business leaders interested only in bottom lines … in general, all those strata of society which maintain their ability to oppress in the name of what they like to describe as efficient working-practices in bloody awful general and damn good biz in bloody awful particular.

I mean it really is so, isn’t it?  That five years ago, in a school of all places, I was unable to use blogging technologies because they were judged to be adult-related content is a sad commentary on exactly what latterday society understands is the definition of an adult.  And that an “adult movie” should equal the abuse of sex for so many people, and not (for example) its enjoyment, is pretty symptomatic of the whole problem to hand.

Here, then, a final wearisome thought to consider: whilst our childhood is stolen from us even as paedophilia embraces our country’s political and media discourses, and whilst our adulthood becomes defined by an inability to think freely and openly without fear of state interference, little of what I was taught to understand by civilisation remains in the space that I might see to be all our futures.  We can neither be children in safety any more nor adults in growing and developing intellectual abandon.

Instead, we can only – must only – limit ourselves to being cowed young school kids, cowed young adolescents, frightened of every blue car on the corner, frightened of every stranger; able only to prepare ourselves for a world of repetitive office drudgery, growing up into an epoch of adult poverty … everything, in fact, except the glory of humanity itself.

So this is the alternative campaign I propose we should propose: a massive campaign, across the world, for everyone to opt out not of the so-called porn filter but rather – in reality – to opt in to the free-speech zone.

Just imagine.  If millions of people publicly declared their active embracing of a filter-free Internet in the interests of free expression, how powerful a signal that would send to the populists that porn – especially speech porn – is anything but violent.

In particular, a signal to those populists who spend the rest of their lives, outside this matter of porn, exerting undue pressure on the sick, disabled, poor and generally disadvantaged.

For that’s the real porn plaguing our society these days.  The porn that is the abuse of political power.


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May 102013
 
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This report from the Independent today shows us just how far we have come.  Whilst Tory Euro-sceptics continue to plot final disavowal of that evil anti-British entity that we all know and love as the European Union, we get these choice phrases on the corruption Britain is finally now exhibiting all on its lonesome:

Yet recent British scandals can compete with the best Europe can offer. Besides MPs fiddling their expenses and Jimmy Savile’s history of paedophilia, racing has been hit by Frankie Dettori’s six-month drugs ban, we’ve seen London-based banks Barclays and UBS embarrassed by the Libor rate-fixing scandal, and BAE Systems has been investigated over its arms deals.

And yet it gets worse, as goalposts are continuously moved:

[...] “There is no real accountability of these guys coming in—the cops don’t really investigate them,” says Mark Hollingsworth, co-author of Londongrad, a 2009 book about the Russian invasion. “They see the capital as the most secure, fairest, most honest place to park their cash, and the judges here would never extradite them.”

Meanwhile, with respect to the paedophilia scandals, the desire of power to overwhelm through the abuse of sex just gets worse (more here):

A prominent barrister specialising in reproductive rights has called for the age of consent to be lowered to 13.

Barbara Hewson told online magazine Spiked that the move was necessary in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal to end the “persecution of old men”.

Now in a short Twitter exchange this morning it was brought to my attention that the problem isn’t immorality.  In fact, the problem may not even be corruption as such.  Rather, so much of what we do in both large and small corporate organisations is done with a transcendental amorality.  We are circumscribed by process and procedure – and we assume the bigger view is not ours to own.  We assume that those who set up process and procedure knew what they were doing when they trained us.

Yet this very amorality, this unquestioning behaviour, this inability to think from scratch and try and perceive – on a rolling basis – a broader set of consequences from our acts, leads to outcomes which are anything but amoral.  We ourselves are not immoral – most of us are truly not corrupt – but the accumulation of all our individual tasks does seem to lead more and more to utterly unjust outcomes.

Is it then a systemic question as the Independent reports it might be?  Or is it a question of people-culture?  After all, you can have any number of protective processes and procedures in place but if the people who are supposed to operate them are of a mind to, any and all may quite easily – and eventually – be circumvented.

The battlecry for the anti-Europeans is that Europe is a dirty patchwork of vile and corrupt marshes we need to retreat from.  And yet recent attempts to drag us out of such fields only makes me wonder if the true powers-that-be are looking more to defend their own rights to perpetuate a very British corruption from international law and wider socially-inspired movements than to revert what was apparently once an honest public life to a semblance of modest functionality.

Corrupt or “just” amoral?  Does it really matter in the final analysis?  The evidence of the impact of widespread corruption – that is to say, inefficient and ineffective socioeconomic systems – is all around us.  You don’t need to drill down into that individual or the other to know that the inefficiency and ineffectiveness I mention must be inspired by something seriously wrong.

Solutions?  Lord, I really don’t know.  I really don’t know where to start.  But perhaps we should take a lesson from the best corporate organisations: when you struggle to know the true extent of the bigger picture, start with bitesized pieces.  And maybe, just maybe, attempt to comprehend that just as those poor workers were trapped and died in the rubble of a Bangladeshi building, so too many people here in the West – whilst not losing their lives – are wasting their existences in systems which also, in a way, serve to entrap them.

Just because you act in an amoral fashion doesn’t make you immoral.  Even as, perhaps, the results of your actions are.

There’s a lesson to be drawn there, then, about how we see, consult and work with others.

Maybe it’s time we thought the best of our fellow workers.  And acted in consequence.


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Mar 282013
 
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Over the past couple of years, I’ve been reading and writing a lot about the squeezed middle, the absolute poor and the stratospheric rich.  For those of us who are living in the United Kingdom – more precisely in my case, the North West of England – you won’t have failed to notice how the government and the governed simply do not see things eye-to-eye.  In fact, lately at least, it’s often more a case of a tooth for a tooth.


http://youtu.be/Exh8t6lUpAI

The thing is, my natural instinct is to see life from tens of different points of view.  This doesn’t make me popular – or widely read.  Yesterday, I realised the true and abiding power of ranting when itiddly, a Twitter friend of mine, asked me to edit a post of his before he posted it.  He’s a tribal fellow; a traditional political activist.  He insults and damns and blasts the Tories at every opportunity.

I resisted the temptation to help him out with his post – rather patronisingly (in retrospect) arguing that he needed to have confidence in his writing, as well as some exposure, much more than the help of a struggling editor friend.

You can read his post here.  It’s a rant and it isn’t.  There’s a barely contained fury, of course, but all the time it’s an evidence-based fury.  And whilst I rarely get above five or six tweets for my posts, in a very short time his had hit thirty-five (at the time of writing this post, it now reads a hundred).  Exposure wasn’t what was needed on his part here; instead, it was humility on mine.

Yet it is not in my nature to rant one-sidedly, even where ranting of a kind is sometimes something I do.  I would not be able, in all honesty, to write something as single-minded as the post we’re talking about.  And I wish, in some way, I were able to convey the reasons why.  I wish you could all see the ten or twenty different points of view I always see when I see the world.

People have, on occasions, even accused me of dancing around a subject.  Perhaps, in truth, they were closer to the mark than even they realised.  You dance out of engagement and concentration; a dance is a marvellous combination of emotion, precision and attitude.

That is how I see the process of writing.

Which is why I wish, perhaps by using Twitter and other social-network outputs, we could all appreciate better how each of us is perceiving the world: the pain, the glory, the happiness and joy; the misery, the fear, the certainties and hopes.  From high-and-mighty governors to humble barely-surviving governed, the world would surely become a better place if only we could see it properly through each other’s eyes.

So my question must be: is anyone out there at all interested in creating a Point-Of-View Machine?

Or are you all far more interested in setting up monolithic positions of revulsion and non-cooperation?

____________________

Further reading: I wonder, quite sincerely, whether the Google Glass project (more here) – rather than inspire our fear of a final assault on all our privacies – should make us more hopeful in the ways I describe above.  If the POV streams resulting from all those users were made available and accessible in a structured way, we would understand much more easily how each of us experienced life.  And from that understanding, perhaps a kinder governance would emerge.

A kinder world.

A kinder species, even.

We can only hope, of course.

And, maybe, pray.


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Feb 262013
 
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Via Facebook, I’ve just seen a photo of a notable cleric and an infamous DJ.  I don’t know if it’s been retouched (the photo I mean).  I’m not really interested either – at least for the purposes of this post – in whether the story is true or not.

For the moment, all I would like you to focus on is the game that’s being played.

All of a sudden, from politicians to celebrities, from the clergy to singers, from the high-and-mighty to the lowly of caste, skeletons are being violently forced and levered out of closets and coffins.  There seems to exist a particularly Anglo-Saxon delight in pursuing those who have allegedly committed sins of the flesh.  Now I’m not suggesting for one moment that they shouldn’t be pursued.  As I’ve already said on these pages, we should all bear witness to the lives we have chosen to live.  What I am trying to make patent is that there is a certain excess on display – a definite inaccuracy too – with respect to what we’re accusing all these people of having committed.

Above all, when we lick our proverbial journalistic lips and use distancing techniques to protect ourselves from all awful association, or slyly juxtapose old and recent news, the inaccuracies – and perhaps also the bad faith thus contained – become all too apparent.

These matters are being sold as a righteous society cleaning up after sexual perverts.  Two reactions on my part:

  1. The sexual abuse committed (or not) by those currently in the limelight is not principally a matter of sorry individuals abusing others sexually – but, rather, a question of the powerful abusing the powerless.  It is not sex which matters most here but, instead, the abuse by those at the top of our societal trees over those who find themselves almost inevitably at the bottom.
  2. Inasmuch as we are talking not about sex but – in truth – about power, the lesson we should draw is that any abuse of any power by absolutely anyone – and not just tabloidy abuse of a lascivious nature in a sexually couched transaction – is, frankly, as bad as absolutely any other.

What, as a consequence, is our society ignoring – even deliberately and self-interestedly as might be the case?  Well, I would suggest the following: the fact that the Anglo-Saxon Inquisition is now pursuing the “perverts” we perceive with grand vigour – when, at the time, the all-powerful establishment got away with almost everything it cared to, as phone-hacking, the altering of police evidence and the fucking and deceiving of young and impressionable activists in the name of state security all got their shabby green lights – doesn’t half make one wonder whom this sudden inquisitorial bent should suddenly serve to benefit.

For the abuse of power continues apace.  The abuse by the powerful over the essentially powerless is as prevalent now as it is now appearing to have been then.  And whilst sexual abuse still plagues our societies – and still finds itself the object of rightful condemnation – the kind of abuse I would like our police to pursue with equal enthusiasm is the kind of abuse I see exerted by elected representatives over the people they supposedly serve.

This hullabaloo over sexual abuse is right and appropriate – but only if we inscribe it in a wider campaign to eliminate the cruelty of the rich and connected over the poor and disadvantaged.

Time, then, for us to fight for an Atos for political professionals?

Time to seriously wonder if our politicians are fit for work?

Time to decide if MPs, and other political movers and shakers, are suitable for the jobs they carry out?

Time, in essence, to propose an Inquisition to investigate and interrogate the workings not of Anglo-Saxon sex but – rather – of Anglo-Saxon power?


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Jan 122013
 
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Two disturbing posts tonight.  The first, from Anna Raccoon, examines the Savile scandal – and effectively aims to deconstruct what might in some circles be described as widespread “media hysteria”.  It makes for painful reading, certainly for me anyhow.  I find my assumptions on the matter becoming confused and uncertain.

Which is why I draw your attention to it without further comment on my own ignorant part.

*

Meanwhile, another piece which quite coincidentally reached my attention some minutes after the above was this one.  A phrase or two to set the scene for what follows:

My first time started about ten minutes into the journey. [...]

It was a long break before my second time. [...]

Not long until my third time though! [...]

But wait for it…it happened again the DAY AFTER! Cor, twice in 24 hours. Aren’t I the lucky one? Aren’t I lucky to be chosen for a stranger’s pleasure? I mean I clearly look hot if this is happening to me. I clearly look like I’d be totally okay with that. This time I was on a tube and a guy was actually trying to finger me from behind. [...]

As I read this second piece, my thoughts were thrown into awful turmoil.  The blogger in question, Louise Jones, was describing a process of hidden and casual abuse on a fearful scale.  The worst of it was how an intelligent young woman felt obliged to pretend nothing was happening.  If intelligent and clever young women feel society requires them to capitulate thus, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Put up against the Anna Racoon piece, I struggle to see a way through.  I begin to wonder if the media hysteria Anna’s post rejects is actually – in a strange and perhaps now all too understandable manner – simply a question of a hurting society finding some indirect way to notify its sufferers that reality does, after all, exist.  Even as it cannot be spoken about yet, taking pot shots at a deceased Jimmy Savile may be providing us all with the opportunity to express a very referred pain about a much more unpleasant – and society-wide – underbelly out there.

This is why I think the second piece I link to above is the one that more accurately describes the real reasons behind the swirling hullabaloo that the Savile case has generated.  Whether Savile did everything he is accused of having done or not, the continuing pain out there is in the daily humiliation that Savile’s elves, helpers and deadly duplicates carry out quite unhappily, unbidden and uncontrolled.

I’ve never, myself, as far as I know, been the victim of sexual abuse.  But I have experienced the sadness of feeling persecuted.  I even had to spend a month in a hospital because a year of fearing one of society’s underbellies drove me to a puzzling, curious and occasionally frightening psychosis.  And I see that very same fear – that ever-present fear of that omniscient underbelly, an underbelly which everyone perceives in some way and yet no one ever cares to pierce (neither by publicly engaging with nor even by discussing) – infusing the story that Ms Jones shockingly tells us today.  Not a psychosis which distances one from reality though but – rather – a brand new kind of psychosis which quite bizarrely reveals, uncovers and makes all too manifest to this or that individual a cruel reality of oppression that most will – for reasons best known only to themselves – choose to keep denying.

So yes, I do know what it is to experience society’s underbelly.  I do know what being sexually abused must feel like.  And if we should take anything away from the Jimmy Savile case, it is this: sexual abuse is common, widespread, prevalent and everyday.  How do I know?  Because sexual abuse has little to do with sex and far more to do with the abuse of power.  And whilst our politicians, business leaders and other figures of importance are happy to continue publicly displaying – proudly displaying – their verbal and strategic violence in their own radii of action, it hardly takes a wild leap of imagination to understand that their sexual equivalents must be taking place somewhere and some place quite off-stage.

The problem really isn’t Savile, folks.

It isn’t even the possibility that there was a cover-up.

The real and shocking alternative is – precisely – that no one needed to cover up anything because nothing Savile was alleged to have done was anything out of the ordinary.

Neither then nor now.

Neither sexually nor politically.

They were all at it.  They still are.  Ripping into the powerless when the opportunity presents itself.

Politicians do it.

CEOs are paid huge sums of money to do it.

And grubby little Tube users do it … every day of the year.


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Dec 232012
 
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Two – related – questions which have been gnawing away at me today:

  1. the battle that drives a fault-line deep into our civilisation – between the young who are willing but don’t have the power and the old who refuse to renew themselves and yet hang on to the bitter end;
  2. the chimera that is this thing the old call progress – a concept which justifies those ways of doing stuff, concentrating wealth and creating a certain set of privileges in the supposed interests of a broader societal benefit;

*

As I get older, and yet continue to recall my youth with dear fondness, I become more and more convinced that young people in general judge far more accurately what’s important and relevant to our world as a global whole than do people my age.  It must have been quite different when we lived in a time where life expectancies rarely led us beyond the age of forty.  The memories and instincts would have been sharper; the regrets would have been fewer; the tendency to self-justify would have been far less incessant.

As a group, as a crowd, as a common intelligence … almost as an entity of shared common sense … well, that is how I see the young of today.  And not only of today but of ever and always.

So much time and energy is wasted in that eternal battle between those who manage the levers of power, and can thus assert their truths over the rest of society through simple megaphonics, and those who are still in touch with their childlike ways of seeing and doing.  The immediate urge to tell and bear witness to the truth is still present in so many young people – even as in people of my age it becomes dowdy, faded and somehow compromised by so many crossroads where recent wrong turnings only serve to compound the previous.

As we live beyond that moment of mid-life crisis, an unassailable reality of downhill dynamics which in other ages coincided with the burnished and contradicting bravery of the twenties, so we decide to hold onto the few privileges we have acquired in the hope that in some trivial way these will compensate our inability to win our arguments through truth.  Bound as we are to leave our childlike selves behind, we can only build our right to rule on the basis of indisputable precedent and historical baggage.  Starting from scratch, as the young are bound so to do, is a revolutionary act which elderly societies cannot permit.

And so we lose our early sense of absolute right and wrong – and replace it with quite another of imposed correctness and incorrectness.

Hit and myth – that is what people my age do to the young.  Firstly, we physically and mentally attack our subjects and charges; secondly, we propagate stories about how the world should be and why.  By doing the latter, we justify the former.  And by doing the former, we make the latter a self-perpetuating – and self-justifying – piece of cake.

Progress as defined by people my age these days is a lie.  There is too little about this concept of progress that benefits a wider society.

The concept of progress as defined by the compromises of our powerful elders is mainly designed to benefit their interests over the interests of the vast majority of us who survive in this latterday jungle of Darwinian behaviours.  And you know what’s so wearisome about modern life?  That this survival we are now getting accustomed to will take place over maybe seventy or eighty long years.

That’s what 21st century elders seem to be offering the societies they rule: misery, penury and the hollow comforts of painful perspective – that relative relief of the quite unjustly treated.

Not much, is it?

Not much at all.

Happy Christmas, if you believe.

And if you don’t, at least try to remember your youth.


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Oct 282012
 
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I’ve been working these past couple of days, setting up a language-learning site.  Thus, the moderate radio silence.

Meanwhile, the unhappy news about sex abuse and paedophilia at the heart of our most sacred institutions continues to unspool our perception of our childhoods and their – up until recently – complacently happy memories.

I wonder if history will judge the BBC as an especially bad egg in this matter.  Or, alternatively, as a kind of measure of what the rest of society was doing.

Just one simple question today – and one simple post.  Those political behemoths who have traditionally run our nations and their body politics – were they, indeed are they, any better than the Jimmy Saviles and Gary Glitters of this world?  After all, what does the phrase consensual sex mean – if it involves the whiff of powerful people behind aphrodisiacally closed doors?  Isn’t that just as substantial a distortion of what sexual relationships between, in this case, adults ought to be?

What I’m really asking runs as follows: what is the difference between paedophilia or more general sexual abuse – a question of someone exerting power over a manifestly weaker soul in a relationship – and that force which a powerful politician or business leader exerts over an individual, group of people or nation?

Aren’t all three of the above cases situations where those who have power use it to force others who don’t into doing things the latter otherwise wouldn’t?

That is to say, aren’t we confusing sex and power?

What, exactly, is the difference between a shallow celebrity destroying an individual’s peace of mind through a sexual powerplay and a shallow politician destroying an individual’s peace of mind through a political powerplay?

In fact, in essence, even that which we call consensual sex can take place against the better judgement of one of the parties involved.

To conclude, we don’t need less sexual abuse in society.

We need fewer people to abuse the power we award, delegate in and attribute them.  Whether this be sexual, business or political.

A lesson for all our leaders, whatever their fields of endeavour.

Mr Jimmy Savile’s alleged crimes are a warning shot across your bows too.


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Sep 092012
 
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One of my favourite quotes – one I have squirrelled away on my “Odds & Ends” page – is from David Brin, science-fiction author and NASA engineer:

It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.

If we can fairly argue that money is at the root of all power – there is for example, after all, no point in being locally popular with the people if you cannot control what the council spends its income on – equally we should consider with care this clearly well-meaning thesis from Shibley this morning:

While Miliband’s new policy may not be officially redistributive in terms of its economics, his framework is unashamedly redistributive politically. [...]

I understand the desire to support Miliband’s approach, even as I myself find it difficult to share.  But to argue that one can convincingly propose sharing out power on the one hand but not economic levers on the other is, surely, naive to a pretty fundamental degree.  And whilst Shibley may be observing Miliband accurately and not prescriptively, it is Miliband who should shoulder the blame for such a smoke-and-mirrors approach.

Those of you who read these pages will know I’m not the most knee-jerkingly supportive member of Labour.  But it’s not out of a desire to pick holes.  Rather, it’s out of a desire to mend them.  Plenty we’ve suffered over the past two decades for us not to want to fashion a new mode of doing society as well as we can this time.

Unless the real aim is to make us suffer even more.  In which case there is little hope on the horizon.

*

There is, of course, a final thought we can extract from Brin’s quote.  If sanity is to be found in other things than power, should we also conclude that insanity – as well as money – is the essence of wanting to be in charge?  And if this is the case, and those in charge are bound to be a more or less off-beam, is this the real explanation for why they despise not only the so-called disabled but also almost everyone else so very very much?

The Spanish do, after all, have the following phrase:

Cree el ladrón que todos son de su condición.

Which loosely translates as: “Thieves believe that everyone’s the same as them.”

Perhaps, in fact, it’s not even insanity which is at the root of all those who would be powerful but an overwhelming urge – maybe a primitive and primeval urge inside the vast majority of human beings – to want to try and break the rules and get away with it whenever possible.

Expand the edge of the envelope.  Stretch the rubber band.  Do the very best you can to get one over on the law without bending it too awfully.  What those with an entrepreneurial spirit do every single day of their lives.  As, in fact, our government would like the whole of society to do.

On the other hand, isn’t that a kind of insanity too?


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May 312011
 
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This popped up on the very Spanish version of Twitter which I believe my dear old friend – that is to say, the newspaper El País – is responsible for.  It’s called Eskup, by the way (not a lot of English-speaking people will know this): the verb “escupir” means “to spit” – and though I’m sure it was a million miles away from its creators’ minds when they named it, it’s a mightily appropriate way of describing what meaningful tweeting should actually be.

I say very Spanish because it not only gives us twice the number of characters to play around with (Spanish is a beautifully verbose language), it also lets us add images as part of its original infrastructure (well, as you might imagine, the Spanish are very tactile, touchy-feely and full of the very real delights of multi-sensory perception).

Anyhow, the title of this post, loosely translated by yours truly, more or less runs as follows:

“The Internet allows us to think what the powerful don’t think they will allow.”

This is a wonderful way of looking at the power of cheap global interconnectedness.  And that power, that ability to communicate selflessly, to think of the wider interest before one’s own individual circumstances, is truly what should define a 21st century socialism – a socialism precisely on the lines of Web 2.0 if you like.

If you don’t believe me, just take a gander at this story today:

A group of more than 200 Japanese pensioners are volunteering to tackle the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power station.

The Skilled Veterans Corps, as they call themselves, is made up of retired engineers and other professionals, all over the age of 60.

They say they should be facing the dangers of radiation, not the young.

Suicide bombers are one example – and the very darkest side – of a foolish submission to a greater cause.  But these elderly Japanese gentlemen and ladies are quite the other side of the coin: they know their lives will end before cancer can properly strike and are prepared to run the risks of contracting the disease in the interests of leaving a better world for the young.

As Tim O’Reilly pointed out today:

Clear, brave, public-spirited thinking: senior citizens offering to clean up Fukushima http://bit.ly/m8CX2N #chokesmeup #gov20

I don’t think there’s anything to add to that – except that those who criticise freedom of speech, as they often talk about how the oxygen of publicity provides the underbelly of society with the visibility we rightly despise, really should think twice when the latter kind of story whizzes so wonderfully around the world.

And this is why I firmly believe the Internet generation – this cheap and exemplary global connectedness I talk about – is where we should deposit our faith.  When the barriers to communication are as low as they have become is when ordinary people suddenly acquire the opportunity to express their innermost feelings to other ordinary people – quite despite the interests, spin, control and general agenda management the powerful have, to date, had within their grasp.

Our future lies, then, in that honesty expressed in a certain Reagan-esque way – Reagan-esque that is, but quite in reverse: over the heads of the powerful in much the same way, without passing through their matrix, but this time from the crowd to the crowd – from the bottom of the pile directly to the bottom of the pile.

In this way, ordinary people are beginning to find their own voices through technology, software, virtual communications, start-up entrepreneurs the world over and, why not admit it, the US military – in a way that traditional politicking has never managed to deliver.  And if such politicking isn’t very careful, it may become – sooner than we think – less than entirely relevant to the expression of our sociocultural desires.

So watch out famous politicos.  The value you used to add when you crystallised our unspoken thoughts is no longer so definitive, no longer so justifying, no longer so convincing – now those thoughts are finding a direct channel for their exchange.  We do not need you to mediate our communication in quite the same way as even a generation ago.  But you don’t seem to have realised it as yet.

Ignore this at your peril.
____________________

Update to this post: this, from John Naughton’s Memex today, which came my way via Slugger O’Toole tonight, says similar things to the above, but far more succinctly and to the point.  Oh, and it’s actually about businesspeople and their crass approach to customer needs, as expressed by customers themselves – but then most of us would probably be comfortable with the idea that between modern business and modern politics the dividing line is managing to be about as fine as it can get. 

That is to say, it wouldn’t be the first time that consumer-voters like ourselves were in receipt of such a top-down and condescending double-whammy from both their business sectors and their elected representatives.

Meanwhile, this article comes to some rather unhappy conclusions – at least as far as my gut instincts in relation to this subject are concerned:

[...] we might do better to listen to the original biologist, Aristotle, who argued that human beings are nothing like ants, for the simple reason that human beings are political. They have an inbuilt tendency to create and debate political systems, and they do so deliberately, hierarchically and intelligently. In order to imagine a self-organising social group, we have to forget most of what we know to be true, namely, that organisers, leaders and visionaries inevitably arise, and start to exercise power over others.

And even with the kind of evidence wise words such as these provide, I find it impossible to give up on my pet hatred for hierarchy.  So what say you?


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Sep 082010
 
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This paragraph from a Guardian report tonight confirms my suspicions about the corporately contagious nature of behaviours in large companies which go wrong:

He [Paul McMullan, deputy features editor when Coulson arrived at the paper as deputy editor in 2000] believes Coulson was right to allow his reporters to invade privacy in order to nail wrongdoers: “Investigative journalism is a noble profession but we have to do ignoble things.” He says that at the time, reporters did not believe it was illegal to hack voicemail and were quite open about it. “Most reporters did it themselves, sitting at their desk. It was something that people would do when they were bored sitting outside somebody’s house. I don’t think at the time senior editors at the paper thought it was an issue. Everybody was doing it.”

And there’s more:

“Coulson would certainly be well aware that the practice was pretty widespread. He is conceivably telling the truth when he says he didn’t specifically know every time a reporter would do it. I wouldn’t have told him. It wasn’t of significance for me to say I just rang up David Beckham and listened to his messages. In general terms, he would have known that reporters were doing it.”

And, as this report from a couple of days ago points out, if Coulson did know what was happening then the sky’s (essentially) (and perhaps also literally) going to be the limit.

This all smells much more like the final sad rotting from within of a massive empire of astonishing achievement than simply a small affair of parochial journalism gone bad.  For this is what happens when you put a man like Rupert Murdoch at the very top of so many layers of responsibility and ask him to wield so much power judiciously.

There is a lesson here for our politics.  I only wish that people like David Miliband were conscious of it.

There is a reminder – too – of another mogul gone ape.  Mr Robert Maxwell, in some strange and apposite way, suddenly comes to mind.

Curious, that.  How publishing, power and the intricate clockwork of government get all mixed up time and time again.
 ____________________

Update to this post: first, how the inner circles of News Corporation are apparently reacting to the scandal itself – not at all happily, at least according to Michael Wolff – whilst this video of an interview with Rupert Murdoch as per Wolff’s article (he seems to suggest it’s from a year ago and that it’s now going the viral rounds again) is at the very least revealing – and on more than one level.


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Aug 172010
 
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This is a brilliant piece of analysis:

If we want a true picture of what Cameron’s government is about, we should look at another recent recruit to the tent: Richard Thaler, a Chicago University academic who is advising a ‘behavioural insight team’. This has been dressed up as another example of Tory de-Thatcherising, enlisting compassionate, interventionist approaches to social problems. Thaler claims to be what Americans call a ‘liberal’. Cass Sunstein, another Chicago man and Thaler’s co-author on a book called Nudge, which caused much excitement when it came out in 2008, works for President Obama. But Thaler is not quite what Cameron wants you to think he is.

Nudge provides Cameron with the academic cover that Anthony Giddens, the sociologist who wrote The Third Way, provided for Blair. It claims to set out ‘the real Third Way’, implying, conveniently for Cameron, that Labour chose a false path. Markets aren’t always right, the authors argue. Because humans don’t always make rational choices, markets sometimes operate inefficiently. From this (to anyone other than a Chicago professor) rather obvious premise, Nudge proceeds to outline a philosophy of “libertarian paternalism”. The state, without direct regulation or more than minimal costs to the advantaged, can gently persuade humans to act in their own and the wider community’s interests.

This quote came my way via John Naughton’s Memex this morning, and within Naughton’s always efficient blogging (in the most traditional and constructively utilitarian way possible) there is this neat extracting of the absolute essence of the question to hand:

Wilby points out that this libertarian paternalism bears “the same theological relationship to Friedmanite economics (Milton Friedman was also a Chicago professor) as intelligent design does to creationism. It strips out the demonstrably false aspects of the doctrine and gives it a makeover.”

More from Naughton here.

As is often the case, we see that successive regimes inevitably follow the same patterns of behaviour of their predecessors.  Cameron cannot avoid using the tools of New Labour because as human beings we are both condemned and programmed to copy what our elders have done.  Copying has a bad name in our education system and yet is one of the glories of human learning.  In this paradox, we will surely find all the contradictions of modern politics.

And thus it is, as the big society – falsely and incompletely conceived – stumbles from one inexactitude to another, so Cameron’s coalition government aims to convert New Labour’s nanny state of impatient progress into a far more single-minded and male-dominated pappy state of consumerism.

Under the guise of renewal, we simply get more of the same.  Even as some of us confused voters thought that, in truth, we were going to get something completely different.

For there is simply no way that any ordinary politician, once given the keys to the kingdom, is capable of avoiding the temptation to alter our perceptions by changing the labels on the shelves.

And there is simply no way that any of these are going to be anything close to extraordinary at all.

After all, using language to change perceptions instead of realities is so cheap.  Who could resist that when the alternative is another debilitating stretch in the wilderness of opposition?


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