High-Speed Chicken Crisis

This is an actual serious real statue
This is an actual serious real statue

Today a pair of chickens that flew off in opposite directions came home to roost. I’m needlessly introducing the concept of flying chickens here, but bear with me. We are seeing two long processes reaching the crunch simultaneously: EU integration, and Thatcherism.

That these would reach a joint crisis point was perhaps predictable. They were two trains going to different destination while trying to use the same tracks. I’ve already given up on keeping my metaphors coherent. This has been on the cards for… Well, about thirty years. Ever since Margaret Thatcher brought a value-for-money attitude to bear on the idealism of the European process. Since then, Britain has been avowedly in Europe for what it can get out of it, and this has grown into a weird political schizophrenia as politicians, Tories especially, cynically portray a Britain-versus-Brussels conflict for domestic electoral advantage while their businesses reap the rewards of the Union.

The chicken of integration has come up against the buffers of political reality too though. It was never likely that a single currency would succeed without real central monetary authority, but the project was started – in typical political compromise fashion – with only the bits everyone liked. I’m sure deep down they knew it would take a crisis to complete the process; I doubt they envisaged this though.

That it should turn into a crisis over the direction and even definition of the Union was also perhaps foreseeable. Creating EU-wide financial controls that have a hope of stabilising the European economy would entail reversing some of the banking deregulation that, while bringing vast profits to relatively few, helped precipitate the recent crises. And which, since the Thatcher revolution, has been so championed by the UK – perhaps because that same few has a disproportionate influence over the Conservative party.

So we just saw the UK use its veto to block a decision that the Eurozone countries see as vital to their financial survival. Now there is no other option except an international, multilateral treaty between – it now appears likely – every EU country except Britain. A treaty that will, if you will, be a massive Fuck You, UK.

Merry-Go-Roundup

Week 100 - Photoshop Contest Party
Image by oddsock via Flickr

Let’s start the week with a recap of the last one – a momentary break from the nausea helps one better appreciate the carousel, I find.

All hell broke loose in England, with the young indulging in a strange mixture of wanton violence and want-one theft. The more repulsive commentators, in Ireland especially it seemed, were keen to blame it on the feminist-socialist conspiracy to raise children without fathers, completely unconscious it seemed of the fact that this made them sound disturbingly like Anders Breivik. Those who wanted to blame black people had to make do in the end with blaming white people who just talk like black people.

The British government reacted in many ways at once, most of them useless, but the one that got my attention was when David Cameron began a sentence “Free flow of information can be used for good, but…” betraying the fact that he is not at heart a democrat. This view was supported by no one, except of course China.

On a related note, surprise hit of the week was an article on the decline of the meme. What I’d thought of as a throwaway remark was later bandied about Twitter as “Chapman’s Law”: If you hear about an internet meme via any medium except the Internet, it is already over.

I also discovered that I can say what I like about gay Presidents and right-wing politicians, but if I really want to get an argument going here, the thing I need to do is criticise Apple.

Back home then, and off our coasts new dives were being made on the wreck of the Lusitania. What seemed like the last nail was knocked into David Norris’s Presidential campaign when it was revealed that, in an unguarded moment in 1975, he admitted that his adolescent fantasies had been homosexual in nature. This was taken up by some in the press to mean that he represented a paedophile threat to himself.

Attention switched to veteran TV personality Gay Byrne, and he was even approached with an offer of support by the once-great Fianna Fáil party, who until now have only lost one Presidential election in the whole history of the State. But fortunately everyone suddenly realised that this was a completely mad idea.

And at home home, my mother received a call from a phone scammer. My rage was not a nice thing to behold, but the lesson I took away was that if I stayed calm when talking to the scammer next time, I’d be able to scare even more shit out of them.

Still closer to home, I was bitten by a mosquito and had a bad allergic reaction. Having tried about everything available in the pharmacy and found it wanting, if not utterly useless, I discovered an instant, effective cure: Water.

I hasten to point out that that doesn’t make it homoeopathy.

Why Tories Don’t Get It

Conservative Party poster from 1909, in which ...
Not much to do with the article, but ain't it great?

The basic problem of the Conservative party is that they’re the party of old. Not even the old, just old in general. A young Tory is like a baby smoking a pipe, a puppy barking at strangers, a flower behind glass in a museum. Oddly inappropriate and not very pleasant. It is not youthful to be a Conservative, and in the end the party always has to appeal to and reflect the mindset of the older voter. They absorb it, and come to embody it.

So despite the fact that riots occurred in the 80s in the same cities and even the same neighbourhoods, the problem must be social networking. Because it’s new, and the rioters used it to talk about rioting.

Look, I use social networking to talk about sex. That doesn’t mean it causes sex. I can assure you. It’s just the way these things are done now. If the riots had occurred five years ago, the Tories would have been talking about banning text messages. Five years before that, they’d be trying to shut down Internet chat rooms. As it happens though there were no riots on those occasions, so it’s fortunate that the Tories weren’t in power. Not of course that we’re suggesting any possible oh yes we are.

If I were a British voter, at the last election I’d have been tempted to vote for the Conservatives – or at least abstain from voting for Labour. Why? Mainly because of Labour’s pursuit of ID cards. I thought it was a case of a socialist party going a bit collective on individual liberty. But here are the Conservatives, party of individual rights and responsibilities, wanting to police our texts and sit in on our conversations. Because they don’t know what else to do.

“Free flow of information can be used for good,” said David Cameron to the House of Commons. No David. Free flow of information cannot be “used for good”. It is the fundamental basis of liberal democracy. If you don’t understand that, get the hell out.

The Great Theft Of London

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson poses for a pho...
Seriously. Boris Johnson

Pent-up resentment, a growing social divide, mistrust of the police? At the start, certainly. Riots follow Tory governments like, well like effect follows cause. But now something else has happened. Something new.

Consider the circumstances. The Metropolitan Police, tasked with keeping order in London, are demoralised and ill-prepared. They’ve had a 20% funding cutback even though, as always in a recession, crime rates are soaring. They’ve just lost their Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner in the phone hacking scandal, under a pall of suspected corruption. And the man who is ultimately in charge is Boris Johnson.

I’ll just say that again so it can sink in. Boris Johnson.

What we are seeing is an extraordinary historic opportunity. Social media and fancy phones were not really necessary, it almost crystallised out of the air. A truly vast number of petty thieves, shoplifters, and many who until now have never been tempted by crime had one single thought. If they all did it at once, they could steal… they could steal… They could steal London.

The whole thing. It’ll be gone by Thursday.

Press versus Politics

Murdoch's papers actually boasted that they could decide elections

What’s happening in Britain today is pretty damn exciting. Bluntly put, politicians have been running scared of Rupert Murdoch for decades. He has been a kingmaker. He owns enough of the media, including dailies and sundays in both the broadsheet and tabloid markets, to influence the entire political agenda, arguably even deciding the outcome of elections.

Politicians have feared him, politicians have tried to appease him. And not just because he could shape the agenda of public debate. He could also use his papers, and the people employed by them, to exert personal pressure. The man who owns the London Times also kept a couple of rottweilers, and had no qualms about using them to intimidate.

The more success he had at pushing politicians around, the softer they went on media regulation and ownership, so giving him more power. His ownership of leading names in all the paper markets was leveraged into a major interest in Sky, the biggest money-earner in UK TV. Money which helped further increase his market dominance and so his ability to push politicians around.

This was never going to end well.

And it looks likely to happen all over again in the US, where his Fox News has helped shift the debate drastically towards the right – and indeed away from debate at all, to a place where actual democratic politics is paralysed by polarisation and shouting. Murdoch is a businessman willing to damage the public cultures of countries within which he operates in order to profit.

What we’re getting to watch here is the worm finally turning. And it’s wonderful to see. Realising that public opinion might for once be on their side, cowed politicians are beginning to get a gleam in their eyes. They are imagining a world where they are not afraid. And they are thrilled by what a better world that could be.

For once, you can sympathise with the politicians. The press must be powerful, it must be free and strong. But dominance by one man and his organisation is every bit as pernicious as dominance by government.