Mar 142014
 
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For just over seven years, I wrote this blog quite blindly.  I was reactive, puzzled, thrashing about where many (most) had already thrashed.  I sometimes wondered if it was infirmity which drove me on.  But in just over seven years, I was incapable of ever writing down – in a minute or two – the common denominators that drove me in so many of my posts.

Today, on the occasion of Tony Benn’s sad death, Brian Moylan sent my way this video.  In less than two minutes, it encapsulates everything (I now realise) that made me write for seven quite helter-skelter years.  Watch it – and you’ll see exactly what I mean.


http://youtu.be/Xfk0rfbDnXo

No.  I’m not unmothballing this blog quite yet.  I’m writing over at http://error451.me/blog and blinkingti.me quite happily right now – the former with relative interest from my readers, the latter with very little interest for anyone except me.

:-)

But hey-ho, that’s the life on the open seas.

And with that celebration of a life sincerely lived, I burrow my way back into the anonymity from which I have temporarily emerged.


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Oct 192013
 
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There’s a great article out there all about Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.  Or perhaps we should really say: Jeff Bezos’ Amazon.

In it we learn how the creator of the web’s most iconic tech-driven shop has supposedly prohibited the use of PowerPoint presentations in the company.  Instead, six-page articles must be written by disconcerted employees to ensure that thought is clearly developed and expounded.

The technology of PowerPoint, so the position goes, being an impediment to usefully coherent narrative.

You can read this article here.  You’ll find it quite an eye-opener.  You’ll find out in a minute why I’ve mentioned it.

Well, hell no.  Let me tell you right now.  If this ever gets to Mr Bezos’ eyes, this is my customer equivalent of that six-page presentation.

For in the meantime, I’ve been fighting off the temptation to get really cross.  With the gentleman’s company in question and with others of a similar bent.  My story ranges from rants against housing trusts, local councils and the aforementioned tech corps to mobile-phone providers, vendors and manufacturers.  I’m not a happy bunny at the moment – and, of course, my anger is my responsibility. So I know that my surviving and coming out the other side of these first world pains is not your job to engineer.  But as a small and insignificant customer of many tech firms in the past and present, one day one or two of you might want to learn.

My latest unhappy troubles relate to an erstwhile rather reliable holiday companion of virtual e-content, my 3G keyboarded Kindle.  Bought for me from Tesco by my eldest son as a birthday present in June 2011, it cost him 152 quid.  It stopped being quite so reliable a couple of days ago.  After a few weeks ignored in the bustle of ending summer hols, I turned it back on.  First, it wouldn’t connect to 3G any longer (I’ve had it explained to me that this – in the presence of an available wifi connection – is now a feature and not the bug I thought it was); nevertheless, I religiously recharged it and everything seemed OK.  Then yesterday it began to suffer from what Microsoft users of ancient Windows product will surely empathise with: in this case the WSOD, or White Screen Of Death, for those Kindlers still uninitiated in such matters.

As Which? usefully points out, my contractual relationship is not with Amazon the manufacturer but Tesco the vendor.  You can imagine my surprise, then, when I phoned Tesco’s customer services helpline to be automatically transferred directly to Amazon.  The Amazon customer services lady went on to hand me over to a member of the specialised Kindle team when she realised my issue was not of simple resolution.  He attempted to carry out some procedures to reawaken my Kindle, sadly to no avail.  He then offered me an upgrade: a new Kindle in exchange, which I would have to pay for.  I said I would be quite happy with a replacement rather than an upgrade – for one thing, I liked the physical keyboard (something he agreed he did too) – but was told no examples were available any more.

I also suggested that although the guarantee was no longer valid, UK legislation had something to say on the reasonable and therefore merchantable quality of any product of certain value.  He referred me to EU legislation which he said gave me only two years.  I suggested, perhaps inexactly, that in the UK we had up to six years, certainly to complain.  We then agreed my query on Amazon’s position should be communicated higher up, and also agreed it should be received via email.  I now have in my possession an email address I can email – pretty much the same one, in fact, I emailed a while ago in relation to an Apple iPod Amazon refused point-blank to take responsibility for.

I’ve decided, in the end, to wait anon.  In the first instance, I’ll be going to Tesco tomorrow.  I still have the original receipt; they are the vendor; and I already know Amazon’s posture.  Time to find out, instead, what Tesco thinks.  After all, Amazon – alongside many others – truly believe it’s a good business model to make expensive objects which we are to be convinced must last only two years before we replace them.

I mean even my father – my World-War-II-scarred father, who is incapable of throwing away a piece of wood, a random cable or a nail on the off-chance they might one day be of use – was heard to say on being told our freezer seemed to have given up the ghost: “Oh well, it’s nine years old now.  Only to be expected.”

To cut what is surely becoming a boring long story short, what’s clear here is whilst human life expectancies are lengthening from decade to decade, their gadgets are becoming evermore short-lived.  So why might this be so?  And what might the broader implications be?

I’m sure all of us, all of my generation at least, can remember stories of washing-machines that lasted fifteen years; fridges that lasted thirty; cars that were made and remade out of this and that for far longer than anyone expects these days.  Yet even washing-machines these days don’t seem to get to the age of five.  Whilst iPods and Kindles and mobile phones and tablets various barely get beyond the magic two.  Not to speak of all those tales of cars whose engines disintegrate at seven.

It’s a problem – a serious problem; a paradox too.

As already pointed out, whilst human beings expect to live longer, their societies’ artefacts fall apart earlier.  Now I’m sure you’ll have read many articles which talk about how society is specialising itself out of sustainability.  As you can see, I’ve written some of them myself.  But this thing I speak of today … well, it’s slightly different.  Here, it’s not the evil corporations maximising their profits.  Here, it’s a different thesis altogether: faster washing-machines, quicker cars, smaller gadgets, brighter screens … all these aspects and more, coupled with the fearful violences of corporate capitalisms, simply make it more difficult to produce stuff which lasts.  Who, after all, would expect an under-the-counter freezer – which cost the same as my Kindle did my son – to function for barely two years?  And yet when it comes to the Kindle, or the iPod or the Blackberry, we gaily accept an upgrade we must pay for as compensation for a product which – be honest and frank about it! – has failed any test of time you’d prefer to sanction.

There will come a time – I can see it even if you cannot – when our objects will have such short lifetimes that the consumer laws will have to be changed to accommodate the inability of the manufacturers to develop products which survive even a full year.  Mark my words.  Bookmark this post.  And come back to it, three or four years down this miserable line.

Bezos is right of course: writing six pages of thoughtful observations has the potential to add far more value than any number of fancy bullet points.  But in the world his ilk and he tend to find themselves moving around, they’re as bound by its constrictions and competitivenesses as much as we consumers are befuddled by their very same massaged marketing messages.  Whilst he may indeed preach no PowerPoint in the thoughtful sides and moments of his companies, in their artefacts and their routinely mundane activities these PowerPoint mindsets have clearly become the order of the day.

Otherwise his customer services wouldn’t offer an upgrade after a bit more than two years of careful usage of a product which costs what many freezers do.  Instead, they would be trained to say: “Let’s repair or replace or refurbish this in a sustainable way.  Let’s look after a customer – and let’s also recognise that the future of our shared living-space, the planet we live on, is just as much a customer we choose to value as that irritating well-meaning thoughtful Miljenko Williams, who always feels obliged to complain so very very much.”

Oh.  And just as a by-the-by.  That freezer even my father now believes is expected to give up the ghost after nine years … well, after a week left to its own devices, it’s begun to happily work once again.

There’s a lesson in that.

We should learn it before it’s too late.

____________________

Update to this post: last night I described over at Amazon’s help-forum pages my recent experience with gadgets.  Part of what I commented went as follows:

[...] In the last year, I’ve had a 16-month Sony Ericsson 150 GBP phone stop working, changed for a new one under guarantee by T-Mobile; I’ve had an 8-month Sony 110 GBP phone stop working, repaired under guarantee by Phones4U; and I’ve had a Blackberry 100 GBP phone, still under 2-year guarantee, not repaired by Carphone Warehouse or Blackberry. I’ve also been batted to and fro between Apple and Amazon with respect to an iPod Amazon sold me via an Audible offer, and whose home button stopped working reliably. Then there were the two Acer netbooks which developed parallel faults at the same time just outside their 1-year guarantee periods. Now I may have been particularly unlucky with respect to gadgets, but I suspect I haven’t been especially. I do have a Gateway laptop which has lasted four solid years without pain. And a Dell desktop soldiers on with Linux. And an Asus netbook is particularly well-made. Not all misery up here in Chester …

:-)

Really, all I’m trying to say in my long-winded way is that a 1- or even 2-year guarantee period is a pretty poor promise when you’re forking out 150 GBP. At least when we talk of products which have less bleeding-edge technologies. No one in their right mind would accept buying a new fridge every 18 months. So why do similarly-costing techie-type products enjoy the freedom to break down and be disposed of after the same period of time? It’s not a question you or I or, indeed, Amazon will be able to answer – but it *is* a question I strongly feel needs to be addressed. Especially when I have yet another faulty gadget to add to my recent and not so recent list.

I suppose that all which is left for me to ask is: am I particularly unlucky – or is the above litany of failure something each of us is rapidly having to become both seamlessly familiar with and resignedly used to?  Any of yous out there reading this post had as bad a series of experiences as ourselves?


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Oct 182013
 
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I was living in the halls of residence depicted below when John Lennon died a violent death, though it was a couple of months after the taking of the picture that it happened.

Me and my family at uni, 1980-style

I can, of course, remember what I was doing: I was ironing clothes.  It must’ve been towards the very end of my first term at uni, for it was a Monday and I don’t think I had yet got into the habit of skipping class too often.

When you start thinking about bits of your past like these, all sorts of things start unspooling.  Two articles I’ve been using in my Skype classes recently are connected to the above photo: as you may have seen, there is a VW camper van in the background, and such a van played a hugely important part in my childhood.  Not only mine – the BBC would seem to have found a doppelgänger of my parents and their behaviours, in everything except perhaps the evil weed of tobacco.

Anyhow.  On the holidays we took every summer or so to the then-Yugoslavia we would be sung to sleep in the evenings by my father’s ITT cassette-recorder.  As my sister accurately recalls in her piece, the Beatles figured highly on the playlist – even before playlists existed!  John Lennon became a part of the furniture of my infancy.  To have him wrenched from me so destructively just as I made my transition to adulthood at Warwick was truly quite a shock.

Quite a shock indeed.

That, in fact, is the destiny of all that is furniture.  Eventually it is wrenched from our precarious grip.  Whether through our own demise or through the demise of another, it is inevitably violently wrenched.  And as much of our cultural output these days, in such plentiful – perhaps even promiscuous – times, the cheap and cheerful Ikeas of the world don’t always get dumped before the Chippendales.

At uni I used to sing Beatles, Wings and Simon & Garfunkel songs on my scrappy acoustic guitar when I felt a bit miserable, and by so doing I would then feel less miserable.  But in the end, it was for me – and it was primarily me it made feel better.

Thus I have continued, once I curiously lost my singing voice in my mid-40s, to act in a similar way with the written word.  Perhaps, in a way, trying to find again that voice I no longer was able to exhibit.  But again trying to find it for myself, not others.

Lennon, McCartney, Dillow, Bell, Geras … curious influences, eh?  Complex connections.  Strange connections.  But all committed, in the positive sense of the word I mean.  Committed – unlike myself – to forging correctly singular paths in those wayward worlds of otherwise terrible and mind-numbing disablingnesses.

So let’s think and wonder a little on behalf of the future.  Be kinder to our furniture I say, before we end up foolishly trashing it.  Use it if we must – but not abuse it.

Even furniture, sometimes, cries out in the pain of that deadening hand of gravity.

That gravity which eventually overcomes us all.


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Oct 122013
 
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Evgeny Morozov wrote this recently:

To say that “the Internet” is our “sharknado” is to accept that the current configuration of practices, services, and conversations – the Internet discourse – already structures how we talk,  what we say and what we do after all the talking is done.

It’s not that the current crop of Internet intellectuals are factually wrong or blinded by some false ideology. It’s that, in seeking to explain “the Internet,” they keep reinforcing a discourse that itself is in great need of disruption. Simply put, the Internet discourse has outlived its usefulness. [...]

Meanwhile, Chris suggests:

[...] Many professionals of around my age and younger downsize, step off partnership-path careers, leave to work for charities, become part-time consultants or singing teachers and so on. In a more abundant economy, many more would do so.

And then there’s the desperation many people feel with respect to latterday – certainly latterday British – politics, as it bumbles its way brutally from racist nods at awful Berlin Walls of immigration to “free” (presumably not as in beer) schools of a manifestly limited utility to ideologically driven privatisations in health, postal services and even – in this day and age of pained experience – profitably public East Coast rail services.

If Morozov is right about Internet discourse having outlived its usefulness, and if everything we do right now is gravitating more and more to being dependent on all those infrastructures sustained by such unwisely received opinion, it’s hardly surprising that intelligent and thinking people might wonder more and more – as Chris’s professionals are clearly doing – of the value of this constant collaboration we call liberal democracy, in this 21st century now bemusing us.

Those few people now still reading this blog will understand where I am heading.  Over the past ten days or so, as I share less of what I am, and more importantly peer less into the vicariously shared lives of others I may barely know (at least face to face, at least person to person), I am slowly recovering a sense of peace.  I may not deserve this sense of peace.  There are others suffering dearly right now: the poor, the sick, the disabled, the unemployed; the employed, too, who fear for their jobs; the employed who do not know from week to week where they will next earn a crumb of consolation; the employed who work in undignified conditions; the employed, even, in living hell.

So what right do I have to retire from a politics which inevitably affects you and me – whether I participate or not?  Perhaps because that politics, like our Internet discourse, like economies which serve themselves of people instead of – far more rightly – serving us, is at an end of times.  And we resist the temptation to acknowledge it.

For it’s not just the Internet which has been deconstructed by the surveillance state.  It’s all our liberal and free-market tendencies in our businesses; all our liberal and free-market impulses in our politics; all our liberal and free-market instincts in our writings.

And neither has this surveillance state consisted only of government spies.  In parallel, in tandem, sometimes in cahoots it would now appear, large companies have destroyed the conditions for healthy innovation: have destroyed the conditions which allow healthy economies to both evolve and – where necessary – commit timely revolution.

An end of times ain’t necessarily a time to end.  But it is a time to be honest and sincere: to be honest and sincere with not only each other but also, on a singular man-in-the-mirror basis, with ourselves.

Our Internet, our economies, our politics too … on the one hand, they’ve all become inefficient through systemic and individual greed and laziness; and on the other, through a despairing disconnect by the majorities the rest of us make up.

Inefficiency is obviously the mother of an end of times.  The question is whether we can recover our previous vigour, our previous sincerity, our previous honesty, our previous truths.

Yep.  I guess it is so.  A revolution of a cultural bent is needed.  Not that revolution, but one of a certain kind for sure.


http://youtu.be/PivWY9wn5ps


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Sep 272013
 
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I announced a couple of posts ago that I was going to end this blog in November of this year.  It will have been seven up-and-down years for me; neither more so nor less than anyone else I suppose.  But I can only bear witness to my own life, can’t I?  My own life – and those of others seen from the perspective of my own, that is true.  But others’ lives seen from my point of view will always be second-hand accounts.  Not many people appreciate second-hand narratives these days.  Most people seem to want burnishedly brazen and breathlessly personal revelations.

I always wanted to be a writer, a definer of realities.  Recently, perhaps more than a writer I wanted to be an editor.  Writing came first though – ever since I used to watch the TV series “The Waltons”.  John-Boy was my hero.  He was my role model.

Editing, then, came later.  I studied to be a publisher in Madrid for a year – the best year of my life.

Defining reality was such a wonderful thing.

These last seven years of this blog have been about that.

That has been my goal, I can see that now.  In hindsight, I was like those Victorian bug collectors – looking to pin down a preservable moment of life; looking to fix (in perhaps too musty corners) the world as I saw it.

I’m not a fighter; I’m not a marcher; I’m not a person who likes the violent disagreement of politics.  I do believe we must all pay attention to the beast, for where we don’t … well, it clearly continues to pay attention to us.  But like so many abusive husbands who make their spouses believe it is all their fault, politics, politicking and politicians make us believe we are basically to blame.

The ills of the world belong to those who think.

When I moved in to the flat I still find myself living in, the colour orange meant things to me and every detail of my life had significant import.  Even the second half of my postcode – 1LL – made me wonder if circumstance at the time wasn’t passing judgement on my state of mind!  I was unhappily weary of not understanding the random chaos out there, and so I breathed life and significance into every chaotic randomness.

I don’t any more.  I understand life for what it is.  And this, more than the magic number seven, is why this blog will have served its purpose.  I looked originally to document my feelings for this century – my desire to fix its wildernesses – for as long as I could, and as near the day I died as was practicable.  But that, here at least, will no longer happen.

I used to write a blog (some of which is still on the Internet Wayback Machine) called Sunday Driver.  Unsurprisingly, this involved one post a week which I would write and publish on a Sunday!  But I’m not sure, after almost a decade of an often daily process of documenting, I could work in this way any more.  Ideas to be interesting must flow from other trains of thought.  You can’t limit productive trains of thought to half a weekend of operation.

What will I do instead, then?

Good question.

I shall miss my writing.  Maybe I will eventually, one day, get to become that publisher I never was able to be.  In the grand tradition of the Murdochs and the Assanges of this world, I’d love to define reality for a broad public: yes, damn it, have the right to impose my worldview on all of you!

Or at least make some money in the attempt.

Have I finally given up on my self-righteous instincts to a freely-shared world?  I don’t think so.  I’m training one-to-one via online technologies quite well and quite happily – quite for the foreseeable future – without making masses of dosh.  In a way, I’m doing more than just training – I teach people, maybe coach them is a better term, to realise how good they already are.  “You don’t need more English – you need better English!” being my tagline, I’m not looking to tie people into a relationship of dependence.  That was never my way.

It shouldn’t be anybody’s.

One final thought: we live in a world where wants define how free we see ourselves.  Societies which allow us to fulfil our wants are seen to be freer than societies which simply supply our needs.  I think this is radically wrong.  I don’t think believing we should be what we can instead of aiming to be what we want is necessarily the worst way of approaching life.  Life is but a perishable moment in a universe of perishable moments. We should accept that when – in fact, way before – we configure our civilisations.

So let us build our expectations, economies and ways of existing around such a truth.  For it is surely better to approach the world in this kind of way than to end up in the limbo of unsatisfied desires; a limbo which currently all too many of us sadly occupy as we sidle down that rope of disinclination.

*

Just to report, as a by-the-by, that as one object of this universe proceeds to gradually shuffle off its mortal coil, my dear sister and her husband bring into the world a new soul for this planet.

Congratulations to them.

Congratulations to us all.

Congratulations to life’s truly unfathomable wisdoms.


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Sep 212013
 
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Last night (well, early this morning), I discovered how one might be connected to two separate Skype accounts from the same Windows user on the same device at exactly the same time.  I’m currently waiting for clever bods to confirm (if confirmation’s possible) that this is a robust technique – but if it is … my, does it provide a facility I’m sure people with both personal and biz accounts have, for quite some time now, had on their rather random software wish-lists.

If you want to know more, have a look at my Twitter timeline from this morning.  In the meantime, I shall wait for any possible tests to be completed.

This kind of stuff, this random stumbling across felicitous discovery, is kind of what life – certainly my life – has periodically thrown up.  It’s the good bit about life, this – that we can reach beyond our limitations and studies and, through some kind of curious unpredictable case of intuition, add far more value to our sum of knowledge than might be reasonably expected.

We are bigger and better and kinder and brighter than the number-crunching wizards of technological capitalism might allow.

As I tweeted just now:

If we live in a history of masses where individuals have levered disproportionate control, what *is* there to do except live where one can?

And as someone else sadly observed, as a society we are capable of staying up till 2 in the morning to queue up for a new-fangled piece of technology – but, at the same bloody awful time, we do not fight for social justice.

I’ve just, myself, committed the same unhappy infraction: following a train of information-technology thought throughout the early hours of Saturday morning in order to solve a fairly irrelevant issue I’ve long had with a piece of software I regularly work with.

Instead of, that is, going to this socialist demonstration or that – or doorstepping that family or this.

It’s a tragedy, what’s happened.  Yes.  History has become of the masses, as many a Marxian I suppose would suggest was inevitable.  But a small and very focussed group of the selfish has learnt how to conduct the masses in one direction or another.  We are not as complex as we would like to presume.  Through a constant process of “message massage”, we have learnt our place in that mass is a hyper-individualised and localised one.  Paradoxically, social networks do not socialise our environment but actually, massively, serve to individualise our every instinct and impulse.

Really, social networks should be redefined: they do not socialise at all.  Rather, they are pieces of aggressively individualising software code designed specifically – quite consciously – to repeat and reproduce an atomising series of patterns of networked interactions.  We do not interact to build sharing networks with these systems at all.  Instead, we interact to build selfishness-engendering relationships where a contagion and infection of behaviours and beliefs takes place.

They don’t put us, in any way, in a social network to be social.  They put us in a social network to become antisocial.

And whilst Marxian masses were once thought bringers (where not harbingers) of inevitable history, those who still stand atop these society-defining pyramids of (globally) inefficient command and control have worked out cleverly, perhaps unintentionally but certainly convincingly, how to make the masses in question work not for that history we might have hoped for (or not, as the case may be) – but rather for their pockets ever-deepening.

We are selfish beings without a jot of altruism.  That is what we have become – or they have made us.

Your call.

Or your video-conference, as the case may be.


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Sep 192013
 
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Just received a mass email from Angela Eagle, via the Labour Party.  Far more effective than they usually are.  Poses a real reason to communicate.  This is how part of the email goes:

Hi Miljenko,

I joined the Labour Party more than three decades ago because I was angry at the injustice around me.

My parents weren’t given the chance of a good education because they were from the wrong class. I was told I couldn’t play chess against boys because girls’ brains were smaller! I wanted to fight against an unfair, unequal society where people didn’t reach their potential simply because they didn’t have the money.

That’s why I share the values of this party — and I want to know why you do too. Tell us now:

Then a link takes you here and invites you to frame your reply in a tweet.  But, as has generally been the case in the last seven years, I’ve always needed more space than that.

So whilst I still give myself time to top and tail my writing, here’s why I’m – even now – still Labour:

  1. My English grandparents were Labour when poverty was a common bond, and the end of the month signalled fear and hunger.  Sometimes not just the end of the month.
  2. My parents were never primarily anything as far as I know.  But my father’s father was always a dedicated internationalist, an Esperantist and an incorrigible writer of Labour Party newsletters.  I figure if I’ve blogged anything useful over the past few years, it has always – both consciously and otherwise – been out of that tradition.  Labour, then, as a progressive force has – paradoxically for me – been a grand tradition too.
  3. Labour for me – at its best and most politically lovable – has been a necessarily powerful bulwark against the abuses of violent capitalism.  When it has disappointed me, which is often, I remember its most lovable moments instead.  When you really appreciate some individual or some institution, you should always measure your appreciation in terms of the best sides they have shown to the world, well outside their rather bitterer conflicts.  We all have unpleasant and internecine sides – let us not use them to define the worth or value of anything.
  4. Whilst Labour has not always been the natural place for free-thinkers, as a self-defined free-thinker I far prefer to “contaminate” its broad church with my thinking than look to less kindly souls.  Yes.  At its best (always remembering it at its best), Labour is packed to the gills with kindly souls.  Kindness is in short supply today – to strive to be good to such an extent almost assigns a religious air to the beast.
  5. Finally, that is why I am Labour.  Even after Iraq, even after the rank social-engineering of debt-engendering tuition fees, even after PFI, even after the groundwork legislation that has allowed the Tories to dismantle the NHS, there are still enough people of good minds, of bright intellects, of humane behaviours in the Party … people from the right side of politics, where – here – the right side means the honourable side.  And in that, in a world I can only now be secular, I find myself the closest I will ever find myself to that sense of religion I suspect I continue to need; that sense of religion I suspect I will always need.

That is why I am Labour: a tradition of progressives, a sometimes pesky community of the always thoughtful, a massive weight – but sometimes a revelation – of contradictory behaviours … and – at its best (always at its best) – an undogmatic religion which allows both the manifestly secular and those believers of so many other faiths to find some productive and constructive point of encounter in a wider desire to disentangle society.

To disentangle society – and, in the end, ourselves – from that web of underprivilege currently afflicting us.

Why am I Labour?  Not because of the Tories.  Not because of the Lib Dems.  Not because of the Coalition’s evil man-made austerity policies – for man-made, essentially, they always will be (it is, after all, the men of the world who frequently manage to damage us the most).

No.  Rather, I am Labour yesterday, today and tomorrow because I choose – out of all the options available to me – the one I still feel like fighting for.

In my own ineffectual way.

But in my own way, all the same.

So.

You will have your own reasons, of course – of that I am absolutely sure.

But these, in much more than an impossibly small tweet, are where I stand today.  And I hope you can stand next to me.


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Sep 152013
 
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This post on the Ten Commandments and contemplating their alternatives hits the issue of closed minds on the button.  Structure, even spurious structure, is often manifestly priceless.  History is full of examples where someone who is capable of offering such structure is judged not on the intrinsic merits of their beast but, rather, on its ability to provide societal comfort in times of crisis.

Meanwhile, a comment on Chris’s post today truly hit home, and reminded me of uni.  Whilst the former describes how celebrity culture is anything but a meritocracy, that – indeed – the free market rewards not the deserving but the noticed, and furthermore argues that …

[...] Everyone loves to gossip. A few decades ago, they did so like Cissie and Ada, about neighbours and acquaintances. In our more atomized society, though, this is less possible. So we gossip about celebrities instead.

… the latter suggests that:

This is the whole reason why soaps exist. You can gossip about them at work.

Chris also observes accurately (the bold is mine):

[..] All – like many former MPs - are using the celebrity or notoriety obtained in one sphere to make money in another. Many people, such as Katie Price orPippa Middleton, make a life of this. Celebrity is a general purpose technology.

And that, in reality, is where we’re at.  Celebrity is a simple tool to generate wealth.  Like many tools, like many technologies, it is transferable: transferable from one area to another with relative ease, especially when you’ve cottoned on to the whole concept of transferability.  The free market – Western civilisation in the round – operates not to reward worth or utility but, instead, those individuals and organisations who understand how to sustain and maximise their existing advantage.

Or does it?

There is, surely, another point of view which bears uncovering here.  Celebrity – and here I mean things like people who are famous for being famous, people who are famous for actually being quite good in their field, people who are notably something (whether clever, stupid, physically attractive or particularly disagreeable), people who occupy important roles, people who occupy private spaces which become public (especially against their will) … anyone and everyone who registers on the surface of media irascibility – does actually provide a considerable service to humankind.  In a randomising chaotic universe, celebrity provides us with structure.  From the grandfather who opens his sports paper every morning in order to meet up again with a characterful stage of regular actors to the stay-at-home parent who watches a daytime TV punctured by regular crazinesses to the businessperson with a permanently connected stock-market app … all of these are processes with a purpose much greater than their apparent/alleged utility: they help us believe we can make sense of the senseless by providing us with patterns which manfully – and womanfully – repeat and resolve.

Yes.  Soap operas do allow us to gossip daily about something.  But, in truth, the purpose of gossip is noble: it gives us a basis for giving shape to our surroundings.

In that sense, celebrity equals utility squared.  Gossip being its visible manifestation, its medium if you like, its paintbrush perhaps, celebrity is the engine of structure in our media-organised world.

The free market may be rightfully accused of not creating the conditions for planet-saving meritocracy.  But in no way can its most visible components be accused of not satisfying serious needs – needs that all human beings, occupying randomised slots in universally bemusing situations, are inevitably going to exhibit and want supplying.


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Sep 142013
 
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In my previous post, I signalled my intent to slowly close down this blog.  This will happen early in November (I think it is!), when seven years of existence finally come to an end.

You, of course, are free to describe what I’ve been doing on these pages in those seven years – first on Blogger servers, and for the last year or so here in Britain.  I, of course, am equally free.  And what I think I’ve been trying to do is explore.

I was speaking with family today on this very same subject.  One of the people I was speaking to is an engineer by trade.  We spoke of the silos that exist within large companies, institutions and communities of every sort: even Twitter, I remarked, has become plagued by a kind of timeline common-speak.  People tweet and retweet the same articles: at the same time hanging their ideological armbands out to dry as well as ensuring the precious virtual real estate is almost entirely occupied with only their points of view; or not even that: rather, with others’ points of view they like to associate themselves with, and boldly show they subscribe to.

I do simplify, I realise – but these silos my engineer described have sadly reproduced themselves in the space of social networking we all hoped, at one time, would serve to break them down.

In the end – both in engineering and normal life! – we become, almost violently so, results- and task-focussed individuals.  Far better a tweet which provokes the massive retweet instinct in others than a dialogue of engaging thought which initially confuses, and then manages to create productively ingenious webs of ideas.  Far more important than process or journey is to be able to hold a result up to the light, and twizzle it around like a diamond of old.  How proud we are of our destination!  How proud we are of our cleverness!

Yet what will eventually save the planet, and therefore the human race, won’t ever be our initial cleverness as detailed above.  No.  It will, quite differently, be the cleverness or three or ten or twenty down the line of humanly – and humanely – fashioned trains of thought.  Ideas by themselves, attributed boldly and permanently to one author or another, will not save us from ourselves.  They, in themselves, are simply not enough.  By ourselves, as individuals thus marked and defined, we are incapable of providing the thinking power we really need.

It’s not bigger numbers we need to crunch; it’s more socially-located people we need to stop crunching.

We really do need to get away from those silos which build up like limescale around our ways of thinking: we need to make far more important the power of thinking; the power of explorative discourse.  We spend far too much of our time anchored in the 18th century of monolithic warships, firing monolithic broadsides at monolithic positions.  This isn’t the 21st century way; certainly not what the 21st century is asking of us.

What I’ve tried to move towards doing over the past seven years is precisely break down those silos, prevent those broadsides from being launched and generate that impulse I would so love to exist much more widely of a communication which aimed to explore the alleyways of thoughts out there in the world; within our minds; and in our most subconsciously creative instincts.

If we can perceive and make a world on the back of words, we can change a world through words just as easily.

That’s all I’ve tried to do these seven curious years.

That I’ve kind of finally failed in a sustainable way for me as an individual is manifest.

But it wasn’t for want of exploring.

And that, I think, is the most important lesson.

That’s what we should all take away from this curate’s egg of an experiment.

Nothing wrong, in any way, with curates – nor with eggs.


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Sep 142013
 
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I haven’t posted here for a couple of days now.  As it’s September, I’ve been getting a steady flow of new online English students.  That they pay and this doesn’t should be self-evident.

Sometimes you have to accept that what you do is so contracorriente that there’s simply no way to feed a family off its back.  I’ve tried for two years; even have a Newstex account which literally pays about $2 a month (so if you feel I misuse your content, I’m quite happy to give you a share of what I “earn” – just don’t expect either to get anywhere soon as a result) … but all this and more to little avail.

I do believe in what I write and also why.  But the little reward of counting up the hits no longer applies these days, as everyone learns to circumvent and block the kind of cookies and systems which provided such minimal reward in the past.

So where am I now?  Beginning to work very hard to build my online language-training business, after a couple of years of learning how to do online training effectively, and perhaps – even – originally, to an extent.

And what does this mean?  Well.  This blog will continue until that date in November 2013 when I finally reach seven years of existence.  Once I reach that date, I think I must put it in mothballs.  There’s enough content here, by now, for anyone fairly interested in finding out about my strange and weirdly lateral way of perceiving received opinion – in finding out more, and maybe thinking they can fix me in some pigeonhole or another.

This, I think, will never happen though.  I always start from scratch in what I do.  If I am half-decent as a teacher/trainer and identifier of learning needs, this is because I attempt with all my soul to listen to what the person in front of me is saying.  And I do the same – have done the same – with the world I have before me as well.

So then.  I hope the last seven years, when that date is reached, will be seen as having been years of learning, curiosity and a real desire to educate oneself.

For the rest, I can say only long goodbyes are contemplateable in my world.  I love people too much to cut off my contact with any of you without prior notice.

This post, then, serves to signal the start of mine.

I guess money is at the root of all decision-making, after all.  Even love.


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Sep 102013
 
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So. Sweden joins the club:

[...] Raw data. Legal loopholes. Secret details. Oversight that does too little, far too late. But maybe the [Swedish] FRA can’t be blamed entirely for its transgressions. It’s not like it came up with these ideas on its own.

Last week, British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell revealed Sweden’s involvement as one of the United States’ most important partners in efforts to monitor internet communications across the globe.

“A new organization has joined the “Five Eyes” and is seen as the largest cooperating partner to [the UK's] GCHQ outside the English-speaking countries – and that is Sweden,” Campbell told the European Parliament committee, referring to the colloquial term used to refer to the US, UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.

Nowhere is safe, it would seem, from the reality that “[...] like the US, the defenders of these illegal activities are quick to point out that national security is more important than following laws or respecting citizens’ rights”.  Not even our erstwhile cuddly Scandinavian social democracies.  Perhaps especially not them.

Just to step back a moment from all of the hullabaloo.  What was the plan, do we think?

  1. Protect Western democracy from evil people.
  2. But the Lord says everyone is born with Original Sin.  Therefore, everyone is potentially evil.  Therefore, everyone needs protecting from everyone else.
  3. Trawl everything that might possibly be useful.  But hey, this ain’t dolphin-friendly land.  We’ll trawl both the relevant and the irrelevant – and who cares if some of the good guys and gals get speared in the meantime?
  4. Problem is, what to do with all the catch?  Prioritise, of course.
  5. So: a) some of the bad stuff is really really bad – and actionable; b) some of the bad stuff is irrelevant for our objective of overall law and order (thus we have the British police announcing they only investigate forty percent of crimes); and c) some of the bad stuff may be useful further down the line, only we can’t tell exactly when or how – so we’ll keep it just in case!
  6. Actually, c) is what I’m most worried about in this game plan I perceive: imagine how you could shape Western “democracies”, if you had embarrassing stuff on every single leading public actor, ready for using at any crucial moment.  You wouldn’t, then, have democracy at all, would you?  No.  You wouldn’t.

I’m beginning to wonder, however, that whilst these revelations may make many a leading politician or businessperson a mite hesitant about rocking too many of these nasty little fishing-boats, as far as the general public is concerned their effect may not only be minimal but the reverse of what most people are currently assuming.

Over the past five years or so, via Facebook and latterly Twitter, as well as through that prior generation of famously blogging enthusiasts, we’ve been brainwashed into baring our every inner thought and occurrence with a happy abandon unknown in the previous century’s history.  We’re already quite used to being tracked by advertisers everywhere.  We may complain and mutter under our breath how horrible it all is, but when upgrade time comes we don’t usually step back from investing two more years in that cracking (where not cracked) new smartphone.

So why should what the Western security services do to us make any difference?  Before the summer, we suspected (some of us, anyhow) we were all being watched.  (In fact, around the time of the Iraq War, I was once put in a hospital for asserting this was the case.)  After the summer, we know it to be true.  We know that anything and everything we do has been registered and recorded for future examination by our virtual lords and masters.  We now know what it’s like to live with the chill factor: that feeling you cannot say something because someone else might act on it.  Although since the revelations, it really doesn’t matter any more (even as before them we wondered whether encroaching offline injunctions wouldn’t get the better of social networks’ freedoms).

And this is how it’s become: they already know how we think; they probably already know how we’d act under various circumstances.  Surely in that, then, there is a tremendous sense of liberation.  Surely in that we can begin to come round to the idea that the NSA revelations may lead to more of a desire – not less – on our part to exercise our freedom to speak out.

In for a penny, in for a krona … there’s nowhere you can go to escape these disagreeable behaviours.

Stay where you are, then.  Stand firm and understand: this is how it will be from now on.  You can choose to be quiet – which is clearly your right.  Or you can choose to speak up – in the full liberty-engendering knowledge that we are now in a state of mind we once occupied so joyfully, quite before the Original Sin in question was committed.

As naked as the day we were born.  And gradually becoming as unconscious of our circumstance, as that day for certain we were.

Wonderful feeling, ain’t it?

Wonderful just doesn’t begin to describe it!


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Sep 072013
 
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There’s a most irritating bit of viral tweeting been going on today.  Even the normally judicious House of Twits has freely played along in the process of its propagation.  It involves the so-called (well, that’s what they called it) Militax.  There’s even a website called stopthemilitax.com.  Now I can think of plenty of websites I would like the Tories to sponsor: stopIDS.com; stopthewarinsyria.com; stopthebedroomtax.com; stopcullingbadgers.com; stopkillingdisabledpeople.com; stopbeingarseholes.com … but no, they’ve had to choose stopthemilitax.com.

So there you are.

Currently, the website says this of Mr Miliband:

STOP THE MILITAX

Ed Miliband has been too weak to stand up to Len McCluskey and his union paymasters – and as a result, he is now asking hardworking taxpayers to bail him out.

Ed wants YOU to pay for his spin doctors, his speechwriters, his conferences, his leaflets, and his party political broadcasts.

He’s proposed a £5,000 cap on political donations, which would mean massively increasing taxpayer funding of political parties.

We cannot let that happen. We cannot let the result of the trade union scandal be that every taxpayer in the country pays for the Labour Party.

Join the campaign to STOP THE MILITAX by signing the petition below.

And the way it’s been tweeted – at least today (I may be out of some loop or other, mind – I have been out of the country) – it gives the impression that this is quite a spontaneous outpouring of emotion in favour of freedom, liberty and all things all of us should be in favour of.

So I thought I’d take apart this spontaneous outpouring a bit.

First, the Google page you get when you search “militax 40m”.  The first listing is the Daily Mail (who’d have thunk it!); the second, a Politics Home Storytracker link (fair enough).  The Storytracker, as befits its role, is just under a week ahead of the Mail.  But then look what follows: a veritable stream of exactly the same headline, spread out across the web on often weirdly-named websites from August 24th to 25th.  Someone has clearly been buying up Internet real estate, one way or another.

Google page for the Militax

That bbb-news.com site, for example.  Wouldn’t be there to confuse the casual observer into thinking we were dealing with the BBC, by any chance?

Anyhow.  Let’s bring things up to date.  We have a figure of 40 million quid which I believe some Labour people claim – in a bit of a rabbits-in-the-headlights moment – is plucked out of thin air.  So where might that figure have been pulled from?  And with what purpose, background and intention?

Try this article from George Monbiot from late last year:

It’s a revolting spectacle: the two presidential candidates engaged in a frantic and demeaning scramble for money. By 6 November, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will each have raised more than $1bn. Other groups have already spent a further billion. Every election costs more than the one before; every election, as a result, drags the United States deeper into cronyism and corruption. Whichever candidate takes the most votes, it’s the money that wins.

The money that wins – and, of course, the money we as consumers, customers and end-users of the donating corporations end up paying out of our own pockets.  Accountable as these business contributors only are to their shareholders, the rest of us clearly have no say in such electoral carve-ups – and just about everything to lose as we sit on these evermore undemocratic sidelines, coughing up our ever-shrinking income.

But Monbiot has a solution – and I suspect this is where the Militax campaign in question was first conceived in Conservative HQ.  First, what Parliament itself suggested – not very far from the Militax which Ed Miliband’s Labour is now being accused of:

The solutions proposed by parliament would make our system a little less rotten. At the end of last year, the committee on standards in public life proposed that donations should be capped at an annual £10,000, the limits on campaign spending should be reduced, and public funding for political parties should be raised. Parties, it says, should receive a state subsidy based on the size of their vote at the last election.

Then Monbiot’s highly elegant alternative:

[...] This, I think, is what a democratic funding system would look like: each party would be able to charge the same, modest fee for membership (perhaps £50). It would then receive matching funding from the state, as a multiple of its membership receipts. There would be no other sources of income. (This formula would make brokerage by trade unions redundant.)

This system, I believe, would not only clean up politics, it would also force parties to re-engage with the public. It would oblige them to be more entrepreneurial in raising their membership, and therefore their democratic legitimacy. It creates an incentive for voters to join a party and to begin, once more, to participate in politics.

The cost to the public would be perhaps £50m a year, or a little more than £1 per elector: three times the price of a telephone vote on The X Factor. This, on the scale of state expenditure, is microscopic.

So instead of Gove’s £40 million Militax, we have Monbiot’s £50 million alternative.  Even more difficult for an austerity-riven public to swallow?  Well.  I don’t know.  Two things which make me think otherwise:

  1. If unchecked, and as per the trend sweeping in from across the Atlantic, more and more of our goods and services will have the cost of political sponsorship built in to their prices.  From the millions we currently pay for without representation, it’s not inconceivable that in what Cameron has so recently described as the world’s sixth-biggest economy, aspirations to shifting up a gear and buying billions of political influence won’t be far behind.  Our choice as consumers and voters, then?  Be ready to pay outside the umbrella of democracy – or be ready to pay within it.  I know which I’d prefer.  (I also know – as I’m sure you do – that there’s no such thing out there as a free lunch.)
  2. The British people are already quite accustomed to spending wasting, say, £34 million on quixotic projects without an apparent end-date.  If IDS can reserve for himself the right to burn the taxpayers’ fingers as he does, why not run the risk of trying to fix – with a degree of intelligent foresight – our whole body politic?  Before, that is, it goes much further down the road of shitty American plutocracy.  You never know, it might even work!

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Sep 062013
 
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Here’s the real David Cameron playing the part of Hugh Grant.


http://youtu.be/LyRxOdGW4Ys

Compare and contrast with the real Hugh Grant playing the Prime Minister Cameron could once really have been.
http://youtu.be/qMJcZpvyNok

So let’s just go through the first video and Cameron’s rendering of Hugh Grant, one more time – in this case, with some suitably comparing and contrasting links:

[...] “We have been told that the Russians absolutely deny making the remark that [the UK was a small island to which no one listened], and certainly no one’s made it to me. But let me be clear – Britain may be a small island, but I would challenge anyone to find a country with a prouder history, a bigger heart or greater resilience.

“Britain is an island that has helped to clear the European continent of fascism and was resolute in doing that throughout the second world war. Britain is an island that helped to abolish slavery, that has invented most of the things worth inventing, including every sport currently played around the world, that still today is responsible for art, literature and music that delights the entire world.

“We are very proud of everything we do as a small island – a small island that has the sixth-largest economy, the fourth best-funded military, some of the most effective diplomats, the proudest history, one of the best records for art and literature and contribution to philosophy and world civilisation.”

He added: “For the people who live in Northern Ireland, I should say we are not just an island we are a collection of islands. I don’t want anyone in Shetland or Orkney to feel left out by this.”

I’ve seen it claimed that David Cameron playing the part of Hugh Grant playing the part of British Prime Minister is a combination of the heartfelt, if fanciful.

That is to say, at least we can accept his heart is in the right place.

But like so much of this Coalition, this lying Coalition, whilst its prejudiced view of the United Kingdom is beautiful in theory, it covers up a raft of unhappy unpleasantries and realities not even Cameron’s PR can paper over any more.

As Mark suggests:

Don’t question the Law or the Lawmakers in Government, much like you shouldn’t question your God in religion.

If Cameron’s little speech, if his “Love Actually” fit of pique, is actually an example of Britain’s diplomatic engine firing on all four cylinders, I think – more probably than not – Vladimir Putin’s unnamed adviser was right.

Or, at least, almost right.

When he (or she) supposedly suggested that “the UK was a small island to which no one listened”, he (or she) should (lovey) actually have observed that we were dealing with “the UK, whose small-minded government listens to no one …”.

‘Cos, from where I’m sitting and reading, and after agreeing most fulsomely on how truly rich our traditions have made us, I can’t help feeling that – in three short years – David Cameron & Co have made it possible for us to wonder if the Russians mightn’t be right.


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Sep 032013
 
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There’s a lovely – short – video which I stumbled across yesterday, from the visual pens of Professor Teivo Teivainen and Director Juhana Aunesluoma, on the subject of corporate power.  I’ve embedded it below and suggest you watch it before we continue.


http://youtu.be/0AXbJsHOzBI

As you can see, the two do not exactly agree on the way forward for a “future world order”.  Whilst Teivainen argues that democracy – politics, if you prefer – has been engulfed by what I presume are processes which mainly consist of the lobbying and sponsoring power of corporations and other transnational institutions, and that these – as politics – need opening up to greater democratic input and oversight, Aunesluoma suggests political power has become far more diffuse, and that – as a result – solutions would/should lie, be found, elsewhere.

I’d like to add a third idea to the mix, if I may.  On the journey back from Spain this year, I began turning round in my mind the idea that competition between businesses, rather than being a saviour towards which we should strive to return, a positive whose time needed to come again, was actually the cause of the many ills which the above video signposts.  Competition used to be seen as a guarantor of efficient practice, the engine behind innovation and positive change and – if  you like – a wider hygiene in what we preferred to see as free-market capitalism.  But it seems to me now as an end-user of so many of these clearly competing industries – note I say “competing”, not “competitive” – that, these days, competition serves much more to encourage these institutions to hugely damaging levels of secrecy in practically everything they do.

From capping the ability of whistleblowers to do their good deeds to super- and hyper-injunctioning national and international media to copyright and patent law – and even making it practically impossible for employees to have separate private lives, where their actions would not need to reflect on their employers (one, indeed, here becomes a chattel of 21st century proportions) – we can only conclude that the aggressive nature of these secretive organisations comes not out of individual malice or evil but, instead, out of a systemic tendency to compete.

Competition is good, yes; we all tend to agree.  But not if it leads to high levels of suspicion.  Not if it drives cross-cultural collaboration out of the frame.  Not if it means that whilst we argue between individuals cooperation and trust are good, between corporate bodies they must become – and remain – quite impossible.

For that is where we are right now.  The problem with corporations is not just their alleged purchasing of swathes of political influence; it does not even exist in a far more complex understanding of where things are working poorly.  No.  It actually presents itself in what ninety-nine percent of us, if asked, would suggest was the inarguable virtue of decently operating capitalism: the process whereby one company must compete with another, through eternally revolving doors, for that “daily vote” of the aggressively pressured, savagely treasured consumer.

Competition is what has made these organisations destructively secretive.  Competition not for our purchasing power, which we could even now justify quite happily, but between each other for resource: for resource as people, for resource as raw material, for resource as research, for resource as branding, for resource as market perception.

Needing to get in first on a project, market and new development has made it impossible for human beings to collaborate with anyone who is not their business race; impossible for employees to collaborate (except in underhand cartel-type ways) with employees from another corporate culture.

Whilst corporations limited themselves to implementing primary research and investigation, perhaps these tendencies were no bad thing.  But now that corporations pay for everything from the election campaigns of political leaders to scientific hubs of excellence, the dangers of a concept and practice of competition which so unerringly lead to these secretive behaviours I describe … well, they really should not be underestimated.

The solution then?  Little by little, of course.  But it seems to me the principles of open source – where new ideas are commonly and openly shared, whilst implementation, support and training are where we focus on competing – could be one productive way which might allow us to recover our ability to collaborate more fulsomely: not only across humanity’s cultures and races, as our progressive politics might demand of us since time immemorial, but also across the artificial business Berlin Walls in corporate-land which – in the end – have (as the video indicates) both been initially constructed by people – and could, equally convincingly, be deconstructed.

To summarise, then: competition between corporations is the problem.  But not because we don’t have enough of it.

Rather, essentially, and pretty much curiously, because we’re suffering from far too much.


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Aug 292013
 
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Tech Dirt continues to document all things virtual (which virtually means everything that matters these days) in a splendid manner.  The latest post I read from its web describes the American government’s hiring policy: employ clever people, if you must – but do make sure you steer clear of the too-clever ones (the bold is mine):

But what of Snowden himself? How do those experienced in government view him. Well, according to this fascinating report that details how Snowden got his hands on those documents, some think he was absolutely brilliant and that being so smart should have disqualified him for the job.

“Every day, they are learning how brilliant [Snowden] was,” said a former U.S. official with knowledge of the case. “This is why you don’t hire brilliant people for jobs like this. You hire smart people. Brilliant people get you in trouble.”

So I come to the question framed by the title of tonight’s post: what kind of society fears its most brilliant citizens?  The kind of society, perhaps, which doesn’t brook the logic, coherence, cogency and sensibility of those employees who choose to pick holes in procedures, processes and systems, veritably plagued with such inconsistencies.

From the credit crunch to practically all this year’s big stories, the people getting in trouble are those who have pointed out problems: in some way or other, small and big whistleblowers all.  The people who avoid carrying the can, meanwhile, are those smart enough to sideline those too brilliant to ignore bullshit.  And the former group – those who avoid shouldering responsibilities, I mean – are precisely the kinds of people which government now seems to treasure more and more.

People smart enough to know how far to go – before pointing out a hierarchically superior person or system’s errors, for example.

Through our system of representative democracies, through a process of distorting the shape of previous civilisation, these governments have created a pervasive infrastructure of mindsets – an infrastructure where truth has an envelope instead of a mirror.

Thus far and no further, they would seem to be saying.

And so it’s hardly surprising our understanding of what is right and wrong becomes manifestly muddled – where not muddied.  As I tweeted last night, too late for me to have very many thoughts which weren’t going to be sad:

@HintonKath :-( I’ve kind of lost my belief in the rule of law – it’s lost its integrity. Not in its implementation; in its moral rectitude.

And that then led to this, as if any explanation were necessary:

@HintonKath What I mean is in legal =ing right & illegal =ing wrong. The two no longer equate. Enough to be legal; not important if wrong.

In truth, I object to all of this on moral grounds.  And there you may be able to criticise me fairly.  Who is to say my morals are better than yours?  How on earth (or in our respective heavens) can we properly measure and compare?

But the grounds for objection are not only moral.  Much more importantly – or, perhaps, much more convincingly in a society where monetisation seems the only way – is the long-term implication for our ability to construct civilisations which continue to progress in measurably economic ways.  By all these parameters and indicators of improvement, a society which fears its most brilliant because they inconvenience the apparently less able “leaders” acting amongst us is almost certainly doomed to tragic degradation.

Like an empire which puts a limit to its expansion, and so encourages a mentality of decline, anyone who cares to build their house of civilisation on foundations which assume it’s better to be smart than right is asking – even gagging – for an intellectual sinkhole to swallow it whole.

From wars in foreign lands to arms-sales of short-sighted adventure to the dumbest of austerity schemes which aim to top poverty on the noddle by making the poor even poorer, the rank incompetence and second-rate intellects that currently sit atop the pyramids of our societies’ hierarchies surely evidence some kind of reality.

Snowden isn’t the first person governments have refused to value sufficiently, because those who do the valuing are less brainy.

Nor will he be the last.

And so this is why it’s time we should begin to complain, demonstrate and act in the strongest terms.

Not because war is immoral.  Not because invading privacy is wrong.  Not because punishing the poor for the evidence-free consequences of the rich is an unnatural and unacceptable turning over of justice and law.

No.  Why we should begin to complain, demonstrate and act in those strongest terms I mention is because these second-rate behaviours are bloody inefficient!  Bloody inefficient – and, ultimately, dangerous for the very survival of our species.

As an empire on the planet, all of a sudden we are in retreat.

Is that really what we wanted; really what we needed; really what we expected of the century?


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Aug 282013
 
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On another occasion, ten years ago, Robin Cook resigned from government with the following speech (the bold is mine):

The US can afford to go it alone, but Britain is not a superpower.

Our interests are best protected not by unilateral action but by multilateral agreement and a world order governed by rules.

He went on to describe the complex situation prior to what he knew would become a war against the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.

Yet tonight the international partnerships most important to us are weakened: the European Union is divided; the Security Council is in stalemate.

Those are heavy casualties of a war in which a shot has yet to be fired.

I have heard some parallels between military action in these circumstances and the military action that we took in Kosovo. There was no doubt about the multilateral support that we had for the action that we took in Kosovo.

It was supported by NATO; it was supported by the European Union; it was supported by every single one of the seven neighbours in the region. France and Germany were our active allies.

It is precisely because we have none of that support in this case that it was all the more important to get agreement in the Security Council as the last hope of demonstrating international agreement.

Even as he returned to his overriding theme – the rule of law:

The legal basis for our action in Kosovo was the need to respond to an urgent and compelling humanitarian crisis.

Our difficulty in getting support this time is that neither the international community nor the British public is persuaded that there is an urgent and compelling reason for this military action in Iraq.

But Cook lived, I think, in a better age – an age when, whatever our political colours, we still believed in and were attached to the idea – to the moral foundations – of what we called the rule of law.  Yet, only recently we have the American NSA breaching the law on thousands of occasions in one year; we have the British government allowing thousands of disabled people to die as a result of changes to benefit regimes; we have the summary privatisation of health, education and Legal Aid being bulldozed through Parliament without the committed support of a very large part of the voting population; and we have a Lobbying Bill which is morphing terrifyingly into a massive series of anti-free-speech measures (more on this subject here).

So what do we conclude as a result of all this?  Why does it make me think Robin Cook (unfortunately) got it wrong?

Because it wasn’t then – and it isn’t now – enough to argue we need to fight for a world of rules.

Because the world of rules we had then – and the world of rules we have now – has chosen, more and more, to bend us all out of shape.

Because – essentially, irrevocably, painfully in retrospect – the rule of law is now the law of rulers. 

Western civilisation has finally lost its universal centre.  It used to (seem to) mean: “If it’s legal, it’s right;  if it’s illegal, it’s wrong.”  Now we (sadly) discover: “If it’s legal, it’s right; if it’s illegal, we’ll make it legal.”  And if we must do so retroactively, all the better.

The objective is no longer to encounter a way of conducting ourselves “correctly”.  Instead, all we have to do is tread, in all that we do, the right side of the fine line between legal and illegal – and civilisation’s your uncle!

And what Blair and Bush were involved in a decade ago is only now coming back to bite us when we least expected it.  Whilst we, as readers and writers, are able to create a virtual folk-memory which compares and contrasts with growing accuracy the past and the present, our politicians – even the young ones – think controlling social media involves a few staffers shooting out banalities.  What few of them truly understand is that 2013 can never be 2003, because their voters’ abilities to remember and refashion realities has increased exponentially; has increased with astonishingly underlying power.

For our leaders, democracy may still – sincerely – involve the sacredness we all once felt in relation to this concept I describe.

For the rest of us, more and more I’m sad to say, it’s becoming encysted as a tool of those at the top.  We may be unfair; we may be too partial; we may, even, be wrong.  But the reality is out there: we simply do not trust our establishment.  Not just out of a destructive mala leche, either; also, out of the evidence which flits daily through our Facebook feeds, our Twitter timelines and our barely surviving – savagely competing – online mainstream.

How on earth can we – the ordinary citizens and subjects – believe in a system which so obviously wants to continue gaming our realities?

What’s more, where will it end?  You only have to read stories of potential opportunities for rapprochement between erstwhile bitter enemies to realise the world is just about at the end of its tether of coherent behaviours.

‘Tis for me, anyhow.  Maybe not for you.  Maybe I’m still too much of that wet-behind-the-ears wastrel I used to be when a kid.

Who’d have thunk it?


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