UK to expel 23 Russian diplomats

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…


Amazon and the Cult of the Corporation

“Why isn’t your book on Amazon?” ask THEY. “You DO know it’s easy to publish with Amazon, right, and it’s, like, the BIGGEST market?” Once you acknowledge that you do, indeed, know this, THEY can, and do, comfortably categorize you as cranky, as one of those people who have a problem with the whole basis of our civilisation — i.e., capitalism. Usually, this is pejoratively expressed as your having a problem with SUCCESS – success, of course, being pretty much its own justification. Which is why prime ministers and presidents are happy to hob-knob with arms dealers. Arms dealers are generally very wealthy and dubiously well-connected — which means successful.

I bought a book, a novel, from a bookshop (I do so frequently). You know, a bricks and mortar, go in and browse, real-world, independent bookshop with someone sitting behind a counter. I took said book back to the office (my particular temple of toil) and left it on my desk. My smart-phone equipped boss came up to me and asked how much I’d paid for it. Whilst asking, he used aforementioned smart-phone to scan the bar code on my purchase. I told him the price, and he told me how much cheaper I could have purchased it for on Amazon. He then went on to outline the benefits of his Amazon Plus account. I joined the league of the cranky by telling him that circumventing Amazon was the point. Huh? Amazon is great! Everything’s so cheap, and they deliver so quickly! Huh! Why would you have a problem with Amazon? Oh, my god, you’re one of those people!

Writers, readers, bookshops, booksellers, agents, publishers, inter alia, would all be better served in a world in which Amazon didn’t exist. Amazon benefits only Amazon. Anything else is simply marketing spin and PR. Amazon wants to make a big profit, and does so, and it wants you to love it while so doing. Don’t inquire into its dubious employment practices, its bullying of publishers and writers, its tax-dodging, and its creeping monopoly position. Amazon used books as a stepping stone to becoming the global department store it is now, and has countries building roads with its name on it in a grovelling attempt to get it to invest — to put one of its high-tech, high-intensity, control-freak, low-paying warehouses in your neighbourhood. Queue up for your zero-hour contract. Welcome to Amazon.

Try telling any of this to anyone who shops at Amazon. The consumers. They REALLY don’t want to hear it. Amazon’s their favourite shop, a branded portal to the goody grotto. Nothing worse you can do to the unthinking consumer than force them to think. Aw, gee, you’re making me feel bad and defensive about my shopping choices. You’re one of those people. Why don’t you just want to make lots of money and spend it on things like everyone else? Exploitation is how the world works. THAT’S JUST THE WAY IT IS. All companies behave this way. And more of that I-don’t-care, self-justifying blah blah that means: Don’t make me question my smug, unthinking, self-entitlement.

That’s the long answer for why my book’s not on Amazon. It’s also why I don’t shop there. Yes, I DO know that if my book were picked up by a publisher I’d have no choice about it being on Amazon, and I do know that Amazon probably don’t care what cranky people like me think so long as the money keeps rolling in, which it will until more people think like me and stop shopping there. And, yes, I do know that that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

As they settle down to their Dan Brown on their Kindle, it seems to be a consolation to the unthinking that the thinking – the cranky people — are so hugely outnumbered. Hopefully, one fine day, we won’t be…

Porky Pies, Shy Tories, and the Rise of the Corbynistas

At the last UK General Election, there was a lot of talk about sly or shy Tories, those who cast their vote for the Conservative Party while being too embarrassed to admit to it. This helped explain why the Conservatives/Tories were unexpectedly re-elected. 34% of the electorate didn’t vote, though the 66% turnout was apparently the highest since 1997. Prior to the election, another hung parliament was widely predicted.

So why are people coy about how they vote? It has to do with voting for selfish, parochial reasons, and having enough self-awareness to feel that one should be ashamed of voting on so thin a basis. In most democracies, of course, the politically engaged are disenfranchised by the ignorant, “None of your business”, part of the electorate. That’s just a fact of life. The amount of people willing to hold forth on issues on the news without any historical understanding astounds me, or used to. Now, I fully understand that holding forth on Iran and Iraq with no understanding beyond the evening news or the Murdoch press is rather alarmingly the norm. Mention historical context and people either become defensive or roll their eyes.

I have never voted Conservative, and sincerely doubt a politically literate population would have tolerated Thatcher or Thatcherism, or a Rupert Murdoch-dominated press, or waved their little plastic Union Jacks as the task force sailed for the Falklands Islands. But then, in thirty years of voting, I’ve been on the right side of a general election only once. That was Blair in ’97, who I hoped was a façade (for Middle England) on a still leftish Labour party. It turned out, of course, that the New Labour rot had eaten away at the foundations. New Labour had transformed themselves into what’s now being described as Tory Lite – in the interests of power at any price.

Since then, it’s simply been a choice between two parties offering broadly the same platform. Nothing much to choose between them – both serving the corporatocracy – like the Republicans and Democrats in the US. Essentially, you’re picking your pimp. You’re going to be whored, and the clients’ interests – that’s the people buying your time and labour – will always trump yours. It’s been said that one of the biggest successes of Thatcherism was Tony Blair and New Labour. That the Tories have managed to convince working people that they, the Tories, represent their interests is a stunning tribute to brainwashing and media control. The same brainwashing turned working people against the unions.

There is a consensus, establishment politics, and you challenge it at your peril. You’re allowed to argue passionately within certain parameters, as Chomsky has pointed out, but you’re not allowed to step outside these parameters. Tony Blair courted Murdoch and the City. One of Gordon Brown’s first acts in government was to pass the right to set interest rates to the Bank of England – again to gain the confidence of the City, who don’t like anything getting in the way of their pursuit of profits, especially political decisions designed to help the poor or the less well off. Under New Labour, deregulation of the financial sector continued to be politically a la mode. In short, New Labour had been elected because it was now safely in accordance with the political consensus and had the backing of the Murdoch press. All of which manoeuvring and shenanigans leads us back to the notion that if elections changed anything they’d be outlawed. They take place at all because they take place within the acceptable consensus bandwidth.

So 2015 was never going to be a rousing election. Labour were always going to be hammered in Scotland given the disgraceful role they had played in the Independence Referendum. The Liberal Democrats had already failed in their attempts to get some form of proportional representation, and would ultimately gain nothing (save for a few individuals CVs) for going into coalition with the Tories. Indeed, they were reduced to a single-figure rump following the election with Paddy Ashdown making arrangements to eat his hat. When the exit polls were released – predicting a Tory majority – there was a slight sense of embarrassment. The British, or English at any rate, had sneaked into the polling booths, done their dirty little deed, and slunk away afterwards, hopefully (from their point of view) unnoticed.

Ed Milliband, the Labour leader, resigned, and the long campaign for the next Labour leader began shortly thereafter. Following drop-outs and non-runners, it looked like a run-off between Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper with Liz Kendall there as a right-wing also-ran. The plan was simple: vote in another Blair clone as leader, hope the electorate tire of the Tories in the intervening five years, and then get elected – probably with media backing before and after – to do roughly the same thing the Tories were doing. But there was a worry, a niggle, a concern about impressions. Given the similarity of the candidates and the paper-thin differences between them, there wouldn’t be much of anything that could be called a debate – so how about throwing in a left-winger to give the impression of a broad debate prior to electing your favourite Blairite (it had been done before). With minutes to spare, they scratched together just enough votes (some charitably donated in the interests of debate) to get the token left-winger, Jeremy Corbyn in this case, onto the ballot.

It was a good plan. Grass roots party members would get to hear “traditional”, “left-wing” Labour views given an airing before the party elected Andy or Yvette to “unite” the party and appeal to Middle England and disenchanted Tory voters. The Labour establishment would smile benignly and offer their blessings. The best laid plans of mice and party apparatchiks…

Jeremy Corbyn did the unthinkable. He garnered support. He filled halls. He offered hope. Hope. The right-wing press chortled and mocked, and then attacked viciously when they realised he actually stood a chance of winning. The Guardian and BBC sneered and sniped. Then it was all about who could catch him, as Yvette shrieked, and Andy flip-flopped, and Liz repeated herself about wanting to be trusted on the economy. And that pesky question about the Tory Welfare Bill kept coming up, which haunted the non-Corbyns, Corbyn being the only one who had voted against it. Burnham and Cooper, their careers in mind, had abstained; as had Liz, who – to be fair – probably believed it was the right thing to do.

Then came the purge. As part of the new election rules, anyone eligible to vote could become an affiliate member of the party for £3 and take part in the leadership election – so long as they shared the parties values. There was much talk of the wrong sort of people – mischievous Tories, Socialist Workers, etc – taking advantage of this. A lot of votes, were purged, and it’s a safe bet that nearly all – if not all – would have counted for Corbyn. Celebrities Mark Steele and Jeremy Hardy were two unlikely purgees.

None of it mattered in the end, though. Corbyn won on the first ballot. Tony “two interventions” Blair went as quiet as Chilcot, and Andy took a job in the shadow cabinet. A lot has been achieved already. We’ve seen what happens when the status quo feels itself threatened. We know the press – including the Liberal press – favour the rich and powerful, and are becoming less and less subtle about doing so. We’re all supposed to get terribly upset because he, Corbyn, didn’t sing the National Anthem – neither is he too keen on kissing the queen’s hand, which one is obliged to do on becoming a member of the Privy Council. Like the non-singing of the anthem (and why would a republican atheist want to sing God Save the Queen?), an insult to Her Royal Maj, doncher know. Doff your caps and tug your forelocks, people.

Then it was reported that David Cameron had put his Prince William in a dead pig’s mouth, though this has now been officially denied.

The next general election’s in 2020, a long time for a party (for whom people are ashamed to admit they voted) to govern.

Scent of a profit

If I made a fortune selling scented shit, I’d be congratulated and feted. I’d be a successful business person, a job and wealth creator, an entrepreneur. This is the emptiness at the heart of capitalism. Profit is king, money god. Price matters, intrinsic value not so much.

As a successful purveyor of scented shit, I’d have to grow my business. I’d get a business loan from the bank, employ someone or ones to market my scented poo, my marketing department. I’d also have an R&D department to blend the various scents with the different colours and textures of shit. Runny Brown Rose could be a market leader with Lavender Log more of a connoisseurs’ choice. We would sell celebrity scented shit, which would come with a certificate of authenticity and said celeb’s autograph. We would also promote a cheaper celeb product, the celebrity smear, in order to allow everyone to participate in the exciting world of scented shit. The Celebrity Smear would be a scented, autographed, coloured napkin (and we’d seek to grow our range of scents and colours in response to market demand) on which a celebrity had wiped their bottom. Perhaps we could add a “story” to the moment of the wipe because buyers of the smear would be interested in what was going on in the life of the celeb at the time they applied the napkin to their posterior.

With the company growing, we’d need to find a way to keep manpower costs down – by off-shoring and making use of automation. Developers would write programs to implement scent-to-shit formulae without the need for human sniffers, who would likely prove expensive in the medium- to long-term. In the event our high-end product required human sniffers, we could and would sub-contract to India or East Asia, where they have competitive labour laws.

With our stock high, we’d form the SSBF (Scented Shit Business Forum) to lobby governments to legislate in our favour by removing barriers to the scented shit industry worldwide. We’d create a fund for discreet  donations to political parties in return for honours and concessions.

An empire built on shit would have me and the board smelling of roses, and I’d tour the country and world giving talks on how to create a successful business. Of course, I’d have “written” a book, No Shit! The Sweet Smell of Success!  which I’d sell at these events and online along with other products, such as T-shirts and mugs.

And, yes, I’d be proud to accept the Donald Trump Award for Business Excellence.

The Terrible Tyranny of Positivity

I’m not one of life’s perky, positive types. I tend to a dark, downbeat cast of mind. Greed, venality, entitlement, exploitation depresses and disgusts me. We have been fed a self-serving lie that allows our prosperity to be built on the backs of the poor. As children, we’re told to behave properly, to say “please”, to share, to “play nicely” – while our nations behave like psychopaths, always finding excuses for invasion and plunder, and then over-laying it with a self-serving narrative: the civilizing mission, American exceptionalism, saving one tribe from another while helping ourselves to the resources of both. Western foreign policy is planned robbery. But we wrote a heroic history of explorers and adventurers. So a murdering fortune-seeker in search of loot and glory has a holiday named after him in several countries. Wave your flag and sing along.

From the historical/political to the social/personal. Imagine you have a disability – many people do, This will have impacted your employment prospects, it may have isolated you socially, chores will have become difficult (housework, shopping). You have cause for complaint and need of support. But, in the Tyranny of Positivity, your example will be a paralympian. What the Tyranny is seeking to do is undermine your right to grievance. Be brave, it’s saying, and don’t bother us. Everything, including the lightning that strikes you, the hunger that burns you, the disease that eats you, is YOUR responsibility. We, the fortunate, do not want to be made to feel bad about it. We are the fortunate, the blessed, and we need to convince ourselves we deserve our good fortune. How else do we get to blame you for your misfortune?

This is what enables the sneering at, the demonization of, people on benefits (personal tragedy becomes political opportunity). It is, the Tyranny states, their own fault, a character flaw. And so the Tyranny’s media encourages the low-paid, those on little more than the minimum wage indeed, to kick down, to enlarge and empower themselves by blaming social ills on those on benefits. Meanwhile, on a yacht somewhere, a billionaire tax-dodger quaffs champagne and awaits his Knighthood for services to the coffers of the party of the moment. He and his ilk – doing the business and buying the political process. Not selfish greedy exploiters – no, no! innovators, entrepreneurs, wealth and job creators. Fully deserving of tax breaks and political patronage. If the chips go down, we can always tax the poor and introduce austerity. We’re too big to fail, and you’re too small to care about.

Be positive by all means, but don’t blind yourself to what’s going on. You’re being liked because you’re shielding the fortunate from your misfortune. “After the accident, he/she (delete as appropriate) just got on with it.” They do so like people who just get on with it, don’t they? Far better than the negative, embittered types who reflect on the unfair distribution of luck in the world, and loudly proclaim it to anyone who’ll listen. You’re allowed to be envious enough to keep you on the work/consume treadmill, but not so much that it puts you on the path to revolution. The fortunate like to hear the sound of your applause. That’s what you’re here to do – applaud! Oh, and to clean up after their parties, banquets and balls while thinking yourselves fortunate for the modest remuneration offered for so doing. How amusing it must be to watch an awards ceremony on TV in which you had the honour of clearing the tables or cleaning the toilets.

Don’t be bitter. Be positive. Think positively. Just do it!  Don’t give way to the politics of envy. How glib and fatuous are the injunctions from the lips of the fortunate. The positivity mantra drowns the small voice of your grievance, the plaint of your unhappiness, the quiet moan of injustice heavily felt. Because, says the Tyranny, there is no grievance; you just have to be positive. Here! Read the guru’s latest books: Being Positive on an Empty Stomach and Breaking a Positive Sweat: Positivity for the Sweatshop Worker.

What you’re really being asked to do, of course, is shut up, stop with the complaining, make yourself invisible. Work (if you can get a job; die if you can’t), consume (to fill the corporate cash-tills), and praise and applaud those who prosper in a gamed system. The world isn’t fair, smirks the Tyranny. Deal with it! Smile, be positive, and call your exploitation opportunity.

Platform Blues

It’s all about platform. Katie Price is more important than you and I. Why? Because she has a platform. Katie Price’s thoughts on the government would be listened to, noted down, and widely disseminated. Likewise her thoughts on religion and evolution. Katie Price matters. It doesn’t matter how wise or clever you or I are, how incisive our analysis, how breathtaking your insight, because… well, no-one’s listening; no-one cares; no-one, to adopt a Heselteeny, a shit gives. I don’t matter, and neither do you. You need an audience to matter. It is better to be thick and have an audience than to be bright without one. If you want to be heard, that is. If you don’t mind not being heard, then you can be as bright as you like. It doesn’t matter. Someone will know, sure; you’ll be paid for it somewhere, but you won’t matter as much as Katie Price. Fame is the name of the game. Imagine Simon Cowell holding forth on politics in an interview. That would be headline news. And the Bieber boy’s asinine antics, his every vacuous utterance, attracts the pens and microphones of the world’s media. Imagine if he held forth on quantum mechanics…

Okay. Elongated, Paxmanesque Okaaay. A question: do you buy the above sketchily sketched thesis? Here’s the bit I purchase – that you need a platform. You need a platform to be heard. That much should be, and is (I hope), obvious. The rest of the thesisette is, to say the least, speculative. Where lies the cause and effect? Wherefore are the whys? Dear Katie! How long would she hold her platform if she did, indeed, hold forth on the NHS? Ah, there, as Shakie might have remarked, is the rubbette. Maybe the roles are pre-decided, and the likes of Katie and Simon are just actors successful in the business (the getting on business) of auditioning for them. There probably isn’t a role for a busty babette to hold forth on the issues of the day. Imagine Katie, with a curious look on her botoxed face, remarking, “Isn’t it funny how we always have to be bombing someone. I mean, weird or what. Still, thinking about it, what else are you going to do with all that military hardware?” No, I don’t thinks so. Our Katie would simply stop being heard. The amplifiers know how to put people in their place.

Things only matter when other people say they matter, and they have to be persuaded that they matter. So – obviously – most of Africa doesn’t matter. Doesn’t get reported, no-one who matters talks about it, so it doesn’t matter. It only matters when a BT Ratter says it matters – when it’s celebrity endorsed. That’s the way of the world. It’s a struggle – possibly an impossible struggle – to be heard on one’s own terms, though independent media might fleetingly create the illusion that it’s not. It may be that once you’ve been heard, heard enough to guarantee that the next time you utter you’ll also be heard, that your message has already been corrupted. You’re heard because someone, some floating agenda, wants you to be heard, not because there was anything intrinsically valuable about your words or utterances. Every idea with currency has someone with an agenda giving it currency. Notice how no-one talks about Nationalization any more, not even Katie Price or Simon Cowell. It’s not an idea that anyone wants to be heard. Agenda has decided that that idea is buried, interred, unresurrectable. Mentioned, if at all, by political zombies uninterested in the important business of being elected. You can always speak the truth, so long as you don’t care about being heard. Why did America invade Iraq? Oh, yeah, oil. Not if you want to be heard, it isn’t. If you want to be heard, it was to promote democracy. Feel free to debate whether it went well or not, whether it was a good idea or not, whether it went wrong in the execution or not, but don’t, if you want to be heard, suggest it was anything other than the promotion of democracy. This is how we got America, the victim, in the Vietnam war.

No-one on mainstream media is ever going to suggest that Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney are evil, though they most certainly are – either that or sociopathically deluded to an extent that makes the distinction in terms of outcomes and effects near meaningless. The BBC won’t be commissioning any programmes that suggest that the USA is the major problem in the world or the principal aggressor – that’s simply not going to happen. The bigger the platform, the less likely you are to hear the truth. When you have a big platform, you become risk-averse and mediocre. Protecting the platform becomes the name of the game, keeping the audience. Why risk alienating anyone, especially if you can be accused of abusing your privileged platform position if you do? A rogue voice might get through on a live broadcast, but you can be sure it won’t be repeated in subsequent bulletins. Didn’t happen; move on; now for some sleb news. “Tom Cruise is in town today to promote…” OMG!. And here’s some more click-bait to keep you stupid…