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Date: 28/12/12

It's All Gone Quiet Over Here

Warning! Long post ahead!

I suppose I'd better get this done now, otherwise it'll be too late.

Yes, it's time for the obligatory end-of-year tour d'horizon. I can't say that my heart's really in it, to be honest, but I might lose my blogger's licence if I didn't.

What doesn't make it any easier is that it has been a quiet year. Almost too quiet, all things considered.

I mean, it's been quiet here, on this 'ere website, for a start. This is largely down to the fact that I took a rash decision back in May to completely revamp the structure of the site - tidying things up, improving the navigation, making it easier (at least in theory) for You, The Reader™ to find things.

The trouble is that, far from taking just a few weeks as I'd expected it to, the whole process has so far dragged on for seven months and I may still be two or three weeks from having it ready to 'go live', as they say. When any updates to the existing site in the interim have had to be done twice to make sure that the work-in-progress kept up with what was already 'out there', then you might see what an utter disincentive it was to post regularly.

I was also side-tracked by other projects (particularly in connection with 45Cat and its new offshoot 45worlds for 78s, CD singles and more). Throw in the technical problems I had in July and August and an absolutely flooring virus which assailed me in the second half of November (which also coincided with the time spent setting up my new PC), and you can see why progress has been difficult and slow.

Apart from that, what sort of a year did I have? Well, it has to be admitted that it was a better year that the two immediately preceding it, but that wouldn't have been particularly difficult. Perhaps as a result of moving to a team managed by someone who - whilst recognising that the rules exist - knows that the best way to deal with them is to disregard them if they lead you into a cul-de-sac of stupidity, the Depression which blighted my 2011 has been far more limited in its effects this year.

Not, I hasten to add, that it has gone away; it'll never do that, and I have come to terms with that. But it is far more manageable and when it does still strike, it occurs at a substantially lower level than before.

Beyond that, I turned fifty during the summer, an event which wasn't as traumatic as one might think. It really was just another number as far as I was concerned, although I simply can't imagine myself as being that age. As a friend who reached that stage shortly before me said, "I still think I'm twenty-four". I also became a great-uncle again just before that (I've only seen Olivia once, when she was about a fortnight old, and she was fast asleep all afternoon), and the family seems to be in good nick generally, so all's pretty tickety and quite boo on that front.

The world out there has seen its standard quota of departures during the twelvemonth, and it becomes more and more dispiriting as one gets older to see people who had been landmarks in one's life dropping off the twig. Bob Holness, Donna Summer, Huw Lloyd-Langton, Patrick Moore, Gerry Anderson...

I used the word 'summer' in a previous paragraph, did you notice? I don't know why; we never really had one, did we? In all of my years I can't remember such a nondescript and wet summer as that one. Nothing was possible except to use the few dry days to stop the garden from going critical; no chance for a long walk or two, and very limited possibilities for photography. Mind you, the same applied to my traditional September fortnight as well. And still, well into winter, the most obvious manifestation of the weather has been rain, rain and more bloody rain.

Perhaps that's one reason why the year in the wide world of the Untied Condom has been so quiet as well.

But I can hear you saying, "Quiet? This year? But we had the Jubilee! And the Olympics!"

And so we did. But bread and circuses never turn out to be as significant as their promoters proclaim them to be. Or, at least, not in the ways that they wish us to think that they are. Especially when, for most people, the 'bread' consisted of stale crumbs from the silken tablecloths of the privileged, and the 'circuses' contained mostly clowns.

And so we had the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth The Perpetually Underemployed (QETPU). I suppose it was a bigger show than the Golden Jubilee of a decade before - which, quite frankly, was an embarrassment, especially compared to the Silver Jubilee of 1977 - but still the general feeling I got from here was that the whole thing was of marginal interest to most people, who were still wondering about whether, once all the fronting and bollix...sorry, I meant 'bunting and frolics' was over, they would still have a job or even a home. There was very little show of support for it hereabouts, apart from the unusual sight of Union Jacks dangling somewhat pathetically from the odd pub or child-care facility, and the only people who seemed enthusiastic were those who were likely to be near the centre of attention, such as celebs and the media. Whether this was genuine enthusiasm, or whether it was an attempt to salve what might be said to remain of their consciences for their acts of conspicuous ostentation is not entirely clear. Whatever might have been said for it at the time, in retrospect it has left - to use Spike Milligan's phrase - an indelible blank on our minds.

As for the Olympics, well I didn't see a single minute of it. Not having a television set (six years, one month and counting) almost certainly helped my happy state of detachment, but I managed to avoid even being tempted to watch any of the coverage online. From what I was able to gather, however, it seems that the 'Simpsons oral sex' logo and the mascots which look like CCTV cameras mounted on a couple of emaciated Tellytubbies were merely the precursors to an opening ceremony which appeared to combine the tweeness of a Disneyfied rendering of Tolkein's Shire with the aesthetics of Carry On Matron with a side order of Knees Up Mother Brown-style vaudeville for authenticity's sake. And again, after the show was over, for all the shouting about how many medals 'we' had won (and why not, given home-field advantage?), the net after-effect has been one of squabbling over which particular oligarch-owned team of wind-kickers will be allowed to use the Stadium and whether all those people who were displaced from their homes and livelihoods in the cause of corporate jollies will ever be 'permitted' to return (based on past experience of British State conduct in such matters, including the shameful case of the Chagos Islanders, the safe answer is "No").

A sullen indifference has settled upon the land, one which manufactured and manipulated 'celebrations' appear to be impotent to displace, at least for very long. Compared to the heightened activity of the previous twelve to eighteen months, 2012 has been quiet...too quiet. For the same processes which were at work in that earlier period are still in train now, in spades so in many cases. The lies about the 'deficit' and the need for 'austerity' - pushed by groups of people who can only adequately be described as economic and social terrorists, and by the politicians and hacks whom they have suborned (often without much in the way of duress needing to be applied) - continue to be peddled with an increasing force and stridency.

And so it is still deemed 'right' that the economic calamities caused by unregulated (or, at best, under-regulated) gambling and corporate grasping should be compensated for by the increasingly swift removal of the last vestiges of the post-War consensus with regards to ensuring that - in one of the richest societies in human history - no-one need go underfed, unhoused or unemployed (or, at best, underemployed); by the targeting of groups of people deemed least able to defend themselves or to fight back - the poor, the chronically ill, the disabled - for campaigns of sneer, smear and vituperation by the State (usually through the channels of its friends and clients in the media, but sometimes more overtly), by which those groups may be classified - and hence be seen by that proportion of the population willing to suspend the evidence of their own eyes, ears and experience for the sake of being seen as going along with 'what everybody knows/thinks' - as somehow 'other', groups that the State can do things to yet arouse the minimum of disquiet.

All this has continued not just unabated but augmented with full orchestra and chorus in 2012: the 'Workplace Capability Assessments' which tell the terminally ill that they should be taking up their beds and portable life-support equipment and going out and working for a living instead of sponging off the 'wealth creators' (such as the executives of ATOS, one assumes); the 'reforms' of other parts of the welfare system which will further impoverish individuals and households alike, be they those caring for disabled adult members of their family or single people who commit the heinous offence of having a bedroom which they are not using qua bedroom; the dismantling of the Health Service in England which hands over increasing control to private corporations to cherry-pick the profitable bits and palm off what may be left on to the taxpayer; the slash-and-burn of local authorities who - rather than stand up to a government without any mandate for their actions - instead close down care centres, libraries and even their entire support for the arts in the vicinity. And all this is just a fraction of what is being done.

All this, as I say, is proceding apace and - what is more - those behind this ideologically-motivated vandalism of the last remnants of what might give us reason to call ourselves a 'civilised society' don't even try to hide their eagerness for the Project, their glee for the discomfiture it is causing or their contempt for the victims of it. Like the hard-liners of the second Thatcher administration, they seem to be so convinced of the almost religious certainty of their position that they don't see any reason - not even a lingering sense of decorum - to refrain from gloating over the effects of their programme.

And so we witness a government which, for three weeks this year, was all over the idea of the contribution that disabled people make to society, but which has - before and since - encouraged by its underlying prejudices and public statements alike a sentiment amongst the population at large that - unless they are confined permanently to a wheelchair and unable to communicate except by eye movements - there are no such people as disabled people; in short, they're all scroungers. That the level of verbal and physical attacks on the disabled has rocketed as a direct consequence of this tactic doesn't trouble them at all; it is of a piece with the régime's entire strategy of 'otherising' those deemed not to be of any economic value. Similarly, in the depths of the third dip of a deliberately-engineered recession, the unemployed are deemed to be 'shirkers' who can be discerned solely by the diagnostic of seeing whether their curtains are still closed at 7 am, when the 'strivers' are going out to work their Euro-Directive-exempt forty-eight-hour week for a lousy wage subsidised by Tax Credits. The unemployed are deemed fit only to be forced to spend thirty hours a week working for nothing for corporations who then show their gratitude by showing them the door and getting another lot of freebies in, whilst simultaneously stashing the additional profits where no government can touch them.

(One of my WTF? moments of recent days has been reading of what QETPU said in her Christmas homily to her simpering subjects ("Now in 3D!"), where she said how impressed she was by all the volunteers who helped out at her Big Bash back in June. I wondered whether that included being impressed by how busloads of the unemployed were transported to London with the promise of a couple of days' paid work stewarding the festivities, only to find when they got off the coach in the middle of the night that they were expected to work, change and shit under London Bridge before doing a fourteen-hour unpaid shift in the pissing rain on pain of having their welfare payments stopped and having to walk back to Plymouth. She cares so much for you, dear serfs, don'tcha know?)

Given that all this is going on then, why is everywhere so quiet? I think you need to look back at 2011 for a clue.

As I remarked at the end of last year, 2011 was a year in which the full might of the State's capability for suppression and repression came into increasing use. So it was that we saw minor offences subjected to sentences which varied from the mind-boggling to the stomach-turning, passed by judges of various levels of seniority and self-awareness contentedly obeying overtly political directives. Six months for taking two bottles of water from a looted supermarket; eighteen months for tossing a spent toy smoke bomb at a shop wall; four years for posting something on Facebook which didn't lead to anything happening. These sentences - and all the others of deliberately disproportionate dimensions passed by the courts whilst in 'conveyor-belt' mode - were all designed to 'send a message'. And they did: oh boy, did they ever! And the message was, effectively, this: you, who dare to rise up in any way which might bring discomfort to the comfortable and unease to the easy, you are on your own. We can - and will - destroy all prospects you may have for a worthwhile future in the cause of protecting the privileges of the privileged. And we can call in aid - by means of carefully-angled words like 'looters', 'gangsters' and even 'terrorists' - those in the Daily Mail-reading classes who feel vulnerable to see you as their enemies rather than us. And you know full well that we can - and will - get away with it.

Give due to the devils, the policy has worked. Despite things getting worse and worse for more and more, 2012 was a year of overwhelming - if simmering - passivity on the part of the victims of State policy. Ally this to the inevitable failure of the so-called Occupy movements to cause anything other then a temporary ripple in the even tenor of the days of corporate executives and ecclesiastical functionaries alike, and all meaningful dissent has had the coffin lid firmly nailed onto it. The 'givens' of contemporary mainstream political discourse therefore remain unchallenged, 'austerity' is deemed necessary (and will be deemed so until all possible alternative proposals can be drowned out) and We are All still In This Together.

Before leaving the subject of the English judiciary, by the way, they have not been resting on their laurels this year in the Dangerously Potty Sentencing Stakes. Except that this year they have turned their attention (and their attention-seeking) to cases involving the use and abuse of social media. As a result, I am proud to announce that the joint winners of JudgeCo™'s Footling Self-Righteous Twat Of The Year award are: District Judge John Charles of Swansea for sentencing Liam Stacey to two months in prison for a series of drunken Tweets (which also enabled that city's University to stitch Stacey up by making it almost impossible for him to graduate whilst not having the balls actually to expel him - the anonymous persons at the Uni who decided this punishment were worthy runners-up in this category), and whose sentencing remarks combined the inane with the perilously illiberal and the downright barmy; and magistrate Bill Hudson of Chorley, for sentencing Matthew Woods to three months in the jug for re-posting someone else's bad-taste jokes about a missing child on his own Facebook page, and whose own comments when passing sentence were as full of wind and piss as those of Charles DJ and were clearly aimed at impressing the mob in the public gallery who had come along to do the modern equivalent of waving pitchforks at the accused with the encouragement - so I'm reliably informed - of a local serial criminal. It's so reassuring to know that Justice is in such safe and capable hands, isn't it?

(Let us, of course, spare a modicum of our scorn and contempt for the grandstanding politicians who passed the laws which make it possible for people to be thrown in prison for typing things which someone else claims to find disobliging, or for what amount to 'crimes against taste')

Before leaving This Happy Land™ for The Land Of The (Shooting) Spree, let us briefly (for the sake of our digestion) examine the state of the corporate media here.

I think the word 'parlous' would most kindly sum it up (although the phrase 'up shit creek', whilst less euphonious, is possibly nearer the mark). The hacking scandal and associated shenanigans rumble on, with the authorities showing far less alacrity in bringing those responsible to trial than they showed in the cases I referred to a couple of paragraphs back (arrest to imprisonment in less than a week). Of course, the cases are far more complex than those which give the Police and the CPS a chance to score a 'quick hit', but we are now well over a year into the re-opened investigations and we have seen little more court action than a handful of bail hearings.

Then we have had the Leveson Report, and for all the screaming which came from the scum press and their accomplices, you would be forgiven for thinking that we were well on the the way to the DPRK, when all that was being suggested was a modicum of statutory underpinning for a system which would at least be nominally independent, in that it wouldn't be beholden to proprietors, editors or hacks. Self-regulation will never work where there is money to be made (see under 'London, City of', 'Railways in Britain', 'Monopolies, Energy, abuse of'), and the press have had more than enough opportunities to get it passably right. Given that it would be unconscionable for the current inadequacies to be perpetuated, then something slightly more radical must be tried.

The BBC is in the most precarious state that I can remember it ever being in, even at the high-sewage mark of Norman Tebbitt's infamous attempts at monitoring it for supposed political bias (that is to say, covering stories in ways that the government of the day finds disobliging). Certainly, such a criticism could never be levelled at it today. Since the Hutton Report nearly a decade ago, the Broadcorping Castration has been in a state of constant brown-pantery about what government expects of it. This has been made manifest in the pusillanimous way it deals with certain stories. Its coverage of the unrest of last year was sufficiently skewed as to raise a sceptical eyebrow or two, Roger Moore-stylee, but 2012 seems to have been the year in which the BBC abandoned all but the pretence of objectivity in the pursuit of some (almost certainly mythical) safe haven from attempts by the apostles of the dominant political narrative of the day to dismember it.

This wasn't just seen in the broadcast acreage given to a tsunami of unalloyed froth surrounding the Jubilee, but was seen - far more sinisterly - in such things as its coverage (or, rather, lack of coverage) of the parliamentary Bill which is clearly intended to parcel up the NHS in England for ready use of Party donors of all types. For further details on the BBC's gratuitous capitulation to the government line, see this piece by Oliver Huitson).

Then there was Savilegate. The 'revelation' that one of the Corporation's top stars over a period of forty years was (allegedly) a serial pervert and rapist should not have come as any real surprise to those who had their ears to the ground, leaving aside the fact that it was always very clear that Savile was a very strange and creepy individual altogether. However, the fact that he got away with it for so long indicates not so much a failure specific to the BBC, but what happens when you let the Cult of Celebrity take over your society. The various other famous names being put in frames (or, perhaps, just simply framed) would seem to confirm such a diagnosis. Where the BBC was culpable, however, was in doing too little about the allegations of Dear Old Jim's misdeeds for too long, and in seeking to sit on a news report which sought to make manifest what many had known throughout, ostensibly because it would mess up the Christmas scheduling of tribute programmes following Savile's death last year. It was left - quite unusually given that channel's decline - to ITV to break the story open more widely just this last autumn.

The failure, as so often, was one of the management of a large organisation, with its customary cowardice (the late Dennis Potter once called it "tapeworm-length"). This has been a particular problem for nearly a quarter of a century, when the worst of the Managerialist Cult of the second half of the eighties was imported to make the Corporation more like the private companies which the then-régime worshipped as the paragons of lean-ness and fitness which they never were and never could be. The inevitable result - as anyone who has worked in a large organisation in the last thirty years could readily testify - is a pandemic of arse-covering. This is bad enough in a standard corporate environment, but when it applies to an organisation which is supposed to take risks in what - alas - has come to be called 'the creative industries', it is particularly toxic.

That all this is being readily and gleefully used as a cudgel with which to beat the BBC as a broadcaster should not come as any surprise, given that the bludgeon in question is being wielded primarily by the Corporation's rivals. What does cause a sort of bleak amusement is when it is used by those of a political and ideological bent which was four-square behind the imposition of that 'management culture' upon it in the first place.

Looking across the water now to the world's Gun Crime Central, that Democracy American-style has now become a joke played on the people of that land in a vicious jeux d'esprit on the part of Fate should now be beyond conjecture.

Despite the nervous twitching of people who regarded themselves (with ever-diminishing justification) as 'Liberals', there really wasn't much likelihood of Obama losing the Miss Corporate Puppet beauty pageant this time around. When, at the end of the whole tortuous (and torturous) process, the Republicans could come up with a candidate only as plausible as Willard Mitt Romney, a multi-millionaire of dubious business ethics and membership from birth of a particularly silly religion, then it was almost as if they had decided to throw the game. That the extreme nature of the Party nowadays required it - in order to 'balance' the ticket - to select as his running mate a notoriously Randian senator in the form of Paul Ryan seemed to augment that impression.

That it looked at one stage, albeit briefly, that such a combination of ignorance and arrogance might actually have a chance of winning may more safely be ascribed to the marked - and understandable - lack of enthusiasm for the other side than for any positives that the GOP's prospectus had to offer. In contrast to 2008, the Republicans were unable to grab enough of the hard-line Protestant fundy vote to make a difference, what with the ticket comprising a Mormon and a Roman Catholic.

It turned into a moot (or maybe a Mitt) point in any case, as not only could Romney not permanently hide his contempt for a large proportion of the electorate, he was further undermined by the sheer ass-hattery of many of those who were running in his party's interest for State and Federal elections at the same time. A few well-chosen words from Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock, and that was the whole 'moderate' image down the crapper. They were certainly just enough to make certain that enough people were scared off voting Red to ensure that Obama got his second term by a comfortable margin. 'Shrinking The State' may be a nice, catchy slogan, but when it becomes apparent that you want to shrink it so that it is just small enough to fit in a woman's vagina, people understandably tend to worry about what other idiocies may be lurking just beneath the surface.

Not, in any hard-nosed way of looking at it, that the result makes any difference to the result, as 'twere. For Obama has shown a lack of courage rare even amongst Democrat presidents of the last forty years. Time and again, he has either capitulated to the agenda of the Congressional Republicans (and those Congressional Democrats whose talent for ass-watching is surely the only one they possess), or has continued the policies and practices of his appalling predecessor either substantially unamended or eagerly escalated. Drones killing kids in Yemen? Sure, the more the merrier! Increasing the surveillance of civilian dissenters within the US itself? Yeah, why not? The Supreme Court will endorse it! Threatening whistleblowers with the rest of their lives in a military brig? Bring it on! 'National security' is at stake!

That Barry doesn't need to worry about ever having to run for election again does not seem to have inspired him so far to live up to his billing of four years ago. And thus does the whole wretched edifice of superficial accountability continue to totter and fall, and who can say what - if anything - can overthrow the unhealthy grip of corporate sponsorship and religiose fakery at the heart of the current system?

Casting briefly about the rest of the world brings us first to Palestine, where the government of the Zionist State seems to be Hell-bent (and for once I don't think that that term is merely a simile) on pissing off as much of the world as possible. When your actions (and reactions) become so extreme, so determinedly arrogant that even one of the weakest Presidents in modern American history doesn't want to give you house-room, then you have long left any last residual sense aside, and you have started to believe your own propaganda.

Not that - the recent UN General Assembly decision to 'upgrade' the status of Palestine's presence there notwithstanding - any help for the Palestinians is likely to come from their neighbours now any more than two years ago. Whilst there has been 'régime change' in Cairo, it seems that the new bosses are more keen to turn their fire on women, liberals and non-Muslims in Egypt than Mubarak was. What we are told is a 'civil war' in Syria continues, with the 'rebels' being backed by the Usual Suspects, just as they were in Libya; the vicious dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain continue their thuggishness unrestrained by any consideration of how it is viewed further afield. The 'Arab Spring' - a phrase which always stank of PR in any case - has turned out to be fallow.

Speaking of religious maniacs, as I have just done, brings me finally to the contribution made to peace and understanding in the world by the planet's major religions. This is - perforce - a short paragraph.

All I can say is that if the world's religious establishments were as obsessed with eliminating poverty and hate as they are with what two guys decide to do with their own (and each other's) dicks in private, or with whether the same two guys should be able to say that they are 'married' rather than have to use the clumsy term 'civilly-partnered', then more people in more of the world might be able to live with more dignity than they are allowed to at present. But given the obsessions of the Vatican in particular with sex (whether excoriating it or covering it up), and the knots that the Anglicans are tying themselves in trying to appear nice and resolute at the same time (in order to keep their two main factions from splitting and thus creating a terrible row over who gets custody of which of the Thirty-Nine Articles), I've no great hopes of that.

And so - using the phrase 'and so' for the umpteenth time in this piece; you should have seen it before I proof-read it - we creep one year nearer the Heat Death of the Universe, and give credence once more to Beckett's contention that we give birth astride of a grave. With it, we can but hope for an opening of eyes to what is really going on in our world, and an opening of hearts and minds so that we can, just maybe, do something to change it for the general betterment.

And if you believe that, you can plait fog.

Happy new year...