Friday, November 18, 2011

Don't Blame Us When Things Get a Bit Nasty

As Rod Liddle lands himself and his employers in even more legal problems, it's probably worth taking time to note that the Spectator itself represents one of the media's great morality tales.

As the magazine previously discovered when their embrace of Melanie Phillips nuttiest ramblings cost them a five-figure libel pay-out, this is what happens when you ditch whatever principles you once had in pursuit of cold hard cash and devote the majority of your sales strategy to "pandering to Britain's minority of hateful, arseholes".  Plus, it demonstrates yet again that there's a very fine line between "liberal fundamentalism" and "Acting like as much of a godawful twat as you can in exchange for money and approval".

We'll all enjoy Rod's self-pitying cries of fake persecution while he's being impaled on the great rhino horn of the courts, so let's take a moment to remind ourselves exactly how much sympathy Rod has for those who become the architects of their own misfortune, if they happen to take employment in areas that are likely to cause them difficulties...

"You get paid a lot of money to work in Libya; the reason for this is that it’s a shit-hole presided over by a maniac...   So don’t blame us when things get a bit nasty". 

I feel that similar sentiments could be applied to those who intentionally act like as much of a dick about everything as they possibly can for a living.  Don't you? 

Monday, November 14, 2011

And since I'm on a bit of a whinge about democracy and financial oligarchy, let's note the curious case of Jefferson County, Alabama, whose citizens have been left on the hook for a series of bajillion-dollar debt repayments.

A potted history - the county's corrupt political class, in hock with some of America's biggest banks, turned a sewerage system upgrade into a scam that ended in twenty two convictions for officials and a lifetime's worth of crushing debt for taxpayers.  As for what happened next, I'll let Matt Taibbi, who's been howling about this for eighteen months, take over...

In the end, every time Jefferson County so much as breathed near one of the banks, it got charged millions in fees. There was so much money to be made bilking these dizzy Southerners that banks like JP Morgan spent millions paying middlemen who bribed — yes, that's right, bribed, criminally bribed — the county commissioners and their buddies just to keep their business. Hell, the money was so good, JP Morgan at one point even paid Goldman Sachs $3 million just to back the fuck off, so they could have the rubes of Jefferson County to fleece all for themselves.

Well, Jefferson County just declared itself bankrupt and nobody is happy about it - not chief creditors JP Morgan Chase; not the receivers and certainly not the unfortunate residents, who have been paying through the nose for years for the criminal behaviour of their representatives and their co-conspirators.

I'll freely admit to being just as confused about this situation as I am about the Eurozone crisis.  I've been looking for suggestions on what happens next, to no avail.  Do the locals still have to stump up the cash, or does the receiver start repossessing public utilities?  Does JP Morgan have to eat all that debt and apologise to its shareholders?  I haven't got a clue.

One thing I do know, though - if I lived in Jefferson County, I'd be really pissed off right now, however it turns out.

Which brings us back to that argument over democracy and finance...  How much responsibility would I bear for this situation, if I'd voted for one of these crooks?  How about if I'd voted for somebody else, or for none of the above?  We are, after all, not merely talking about irresponsible borrowing, so much as a criminal conspiracy against the citizenry.

I'm no genius, but I suspect that I might feel like I didn't owe any of these sharks a penny.  I might even feel like I was the victim of a bare-faced con...  And yet, I've read people whose opinions I trust saying exactly the opposite for similar situations like Ireland and Greece.

There's a column in the Times today applauding "the good people of Jefferson County" for defaulting and urging the same course of action for Greece, and I for one am stumped as to whether this is good advice or not.  Anyone have an educated opinion to offer?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pro Patria Bullshitti

Late in his career, Tony Judt came to worry that we were becoming decoupled from our history.

He didn't mean that we weren't paying attention to history, of course - I imagine that more books are written and more elegiac films and documentaries crammed into multiplexes and televisions than ever before.  He was concerned that, with the approaching disappearance of the generations that experienced the great convulsions of the first half of the twentieth century, we were in danger of losing all sense of what those horrible, continent-shattering events actually meant.

There's no doubt that, for the dwindling band who can recall loved ones lost in the great European conflicts, remembrance is intensely personal in a way that the rest of us probably can't comprehend.  So too for those who have lost family members in our more recent wars.

Naturally, you won't lack for coverage of, say, the First World War today.  Even Channel Five managed a fair stab at the Flanders' fields stuff and the symbols of remembrance themselves are, as ever, ferociously defended from all threats, however non-existent they may be.

And yet, how well-served are we by rituals that emphasise courage, duty and sacrifice in a globe-spanning conflict?  Such ceremonies are no doubt a balm for the bereaved and a salute to those who were killed in our name, but they serve the nation poorly in historical terms, I think.

Judt worried that such historical events have come to be seen less as the lived experience of men and women within a particular context than they are a trite moral lesson; an educational tool for children or a tear-stained final act in a Spielberg blockbuster.  A theme park ride, rather than the attempt to inhabit the past that the discipline of history is meant to be.

For really, what is the 11th of November in modern culture?  A moment of quiet personal reflection for most, but it's increasingly becoming just another cash-cow for the glorified entertainment industry that we call our popular press.

Year in year out, you can bet there will be some poppy-related scandal - some paper-flower-shunning TV personality; demonstrating football fans or publicity-hungry extremists to be held up and showered in the hot piss of public outrage.

Are we so belligerent that we need to seek out idiots to feed our perpetual sense of injured victimhood?  These displays of ostentatious media fury are less motivated by popular anger than they are by a cynical hunger for newspaper sales and web-hits.  Jon Snow's much-publicised "Poppy fascism" is a product of the profit motive, rather than of an excess of nationalism or conformity.

This, more than public desire to commemorate the dead, has become our yearly ritual - some soulless hack picking up a paycheque for shouting down a hook-handed Muslim lunatic. You'd think that a nation that has sat on its arse watching The X-Factor while three hundred and eighty-five of its citizens were killed in a ten-year war might have the self-awareness to forego its annual catharsis over a bunch of paper flowers, but apparently not.

The generation that lived through the First World War well remembered afterwards the mad war-fever of 1914 and the ensuing, merciless slaughter of the Western Front.  To them, the war was a catastrophe that left few untouched, visiting disaster upon entire towns and cities.  It showed once and for all that such industrial violence would kill the strong as indifferently as it did the weak, and raw recruits as arbitrarily as three-year veterans.

This week, the lessons we've learned are that foreign football authorities are disrespectful and that intentionally inflammatory arseholes must be banned.  We have David Cameron - a man who shows no compunction whatsoever either for putting British soldiers in harm's way or for assisting in the wholesale destruction of entire cities - lecturing FIFA on the True Meaning of Armistice Day.

Well, you'd need a heart of stone not to appreciate the irony.

Certainly, an exploited commemoration is worth a thousand times more than public indifference, and cultivating a more rounded view of our history is the responsibility of historians and documentary-makers.  The British public show admirable generosity and decency year on year by supporting veterans' causes.

I just regret that Armistice Day has been intentionally turned into such a fucking circus, as if Ypres or Verdun were just another gap in the market.

Lovely, Wonderful Thoughts

"I say, how do you do it?" asked John, rubbing his knee. He was quite a practical boy.

"You just think lovely wonderful thoughts," Peter explained, "and they lift you up in the air."  - Peter Pan and Wendy

Well, well.  I'm hardly the first to note the irony that a vague and nebulous concept - "markets" - has unseated the Italian Prime Minister, a feat that innumerable opposition politicians, crusading journalists, police and prosecutors couldn't achieve after years of hard work.

Funny, that a general air of international unease and an outbreak of unlovely, nasty thoughts about interrupted cashflows have brought Berlusconi crashing down out of the sky, while his epic reign of misrule, corruption and venality was like a big, fat baggie of high-grade fairy dust for world finance. 

What lessons can we draw from this, do we think?  I look from our domestic debt industry, with its aggressive lending practices and cheerful lawsuits for decades-long repayment, and to the IMF, and from IMF to debt industry, and from debt industry to the IMF again, but already I'm having a hard time saying which is which.

Call me paranoid if you will, but I'm inclined to dust off that old saw about times of crisis exposing the true face of power, myself, and to start rambling about how the world is ruled from Davos rather than, say, Turtle Bay.

So.  I imagine there are damn few Italians - or Irishmen, Greeks or Icelanders, for that matter - who can recall voting for wild liberalisation, an orgy of aristocratic greed and avarice, followed by near-total economic collapse and rule by diktat from the IMF...  And fair dues - if I was a politician, I would've left that out of the manifesto too.

I hear many voices pronouncing that this is finally Bedtime For Democracy, but I think that's wrongheaded. To me, our present situation looks a lot more like a sudden realisation that modern democracy comes in whatever colour we want, so long as it's black.

It is, after all, impossible to usurp a system that doesn't exist. 

I don't know, perhaps I'm over-egging the pudding, as well as the pop culture allusions. Maybe we should wait until some game nation decides to default, rather spending the next few decades shovelling fairy dust and trying to think lovely, wonderful thoughts.  I think that would be an instructive moment for us all.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

"England must be brought into line.  The imbecile bourgeoisie of this country make themselves the accomplices of the very people whose aim is to drive them out of their houses to starve in ditches.  And they have the political power still, if they only had the sense to use it for their preservation.  I suppose you agree that the middle classes are stupid?... They are... They have no imagination.  They are blinded by an idiotic vanity..."

Thus speaks the conniving Mr Vladimir, First Secretary of the Russian embassy in Conrad's The Secret AgentGiven that Vladimir is a deeply sinister manipulator with little concern for human life, I'm intrigued to find a speech so eerily reminiscent of certain strains of modern punditry in a novel from 1907... And from the villain, at that.  That speech would get a thousand approving comments, at the right newspaper websites.

Also, check out the description...

"...And Mr Vladimir developed his idea from on high, with scorn and condescension, displaying at the same time an amount of ignorance as to the real aims, thoughts and methods of the revolutionary world... He confounded causes with effects more than was excusable; the most distinguished propagandists with impulsive bomb-throwers; assumed organisation where in the nature of things it could not exist; spoke of the social revolutionary party one moment as of a perfectly discplined army, where the word of its chiefs was supreme, and at another as if it had been the loosest association of desperate brigands that ever camped in a mountain gorge..."

Well, you can take your pick for who that might sound like, almost anywhere on the political spectrum.

Running Out of Ironic War-Based Titles, Now

Forced by circumstances to invade and occupy Afghanistan; driven beyond their will to invade and occupy Iraq by the urgent threat of imminent destruction; Compelled by humanitarian necessity to destroy large tracts of Libya; Pressured into hammering holy Hell out of Pakistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Yemen...

...And now, it's time to make plans for a massive assault on Iran just in case, you know, they back us into a corner.  If, like, we're forced to do it, with sorrow in our hearts and a tear in our collective eye.

I always imagined that one of the good things about being a loose alliance of ultra-belligerent first world nations, armed to the teeth and led by the mightiest military machine the world has ever seen, is that you can force other people to do what you want them to do.

For a full-spectrum dominant, globe-spanning collossus of destruction, it's amazing how many shitsplat, third-world tiddlers have somehow forced us to reluctant last-resort action. How lucky we are that we just happen to have two of Iran's neighbours under military occupation!

And let's be honest - the west's hand is being forced to attack a nation on the other side of the planet, yet again.  After all, the Iranian president has made vague reference to using nukes he doesn't have, as opposed to our leaders' passive and non-threatening habit of announcing that "all options are on the table".  Paranoid types might conclude that "all options" logically includes "total nuclear annihilation", but they're obviously not appreciating the finer nuances*.

So if we're planning war** with a nation of seventy five million people, can I make a few suggestions?  Camouflage isn't going to make any difference for high-altitude precision bombing, so why not go the whole hog and paint our warplanes white with big red crosses on the underside, just to really drive our point home?   

And some economic tips - I can see a real big upturn in the market for second-hand cars and fertiliser, as well as localised booms in sales of canned food and shotguns.  Plus, now might be a good time to convert to 100%  renewable energy production.  I mean, like overnight.

How nice that our government has volunteered to wholeheartedly join in whatever fresh lunacy the Americans may be concocting.  It's a brave and ballsy move to back up our putative ally's lastest and easily most insane piece of adventurism yet and I, for one, wouldn't even consider calling for the entire government to be arrested and charged with treason, unless they were stupid enough to actually do it.

*This isn't counting Hillary Clinton's campaign promise, live on national television, to use nuclear warheads on Iran, if necessary.   Boy, those Iranians sure are crazy, aren't they?

**And let's note - if we do attack Iran, our thoroughly retarded propaganda will not include our first strike as a proximate cause of the ensuing war.  We'll be casting the people we attack as the aggressor, no matter how ludicrous it sounds, yet again.