This Is Not A
"They Know If You've Been Bad Or Good"
(Dear reader: if you find reading what follows tantamount to an act of self-torture, please could you spare a few molecules of the new wonder element Sympatheticum™ for the poor sap who wrote it? Thankings).
I have become painfully aware that I am starting to repeat myself in these wretched end-of-year summing-up pieces. So unchanging have things become that I opened the first draft of this tribute to another mutilated calendar with the same quote from Lewis Carroll with which I began the 2011 iteration. Since the first of these pieces in 2007, not only has so little altered (except, mostly, for the worse, which at least is something which can be relied upon), but what I thought would change has, on the whole, not. And so I find myself in the pretty pass of having to say much the same things in a slightly different way.
And so I, the Nation (pick whichever one applies) and The World In General keep on slouching sullenly towards a presumed future. Where, therefore, to begin this static caravan of a narrative?
In the order given above, I suppose.
I have had a comparatively quiet year: my health has been pretty much par for the course, including the inevitable early-winter infection (one of the reasons for the long silence this month); the family has been OK (or so I had thought until part way through the first draft of this: see you, Tony old mate); work has been much the usual, and so just about tolerable (but for the people, it wouldn't even be that), although my attempts to get myself into a more interesting - and less stressful - job were thwarted by the dreaded 'competence-based' application process; I thought that I had lost track of a couple of old friends ('old' in both senses of the word), but they re-emerged at the year's end; I attended a happy 50th birthday 'do' for another old friend (but, reading between the lines, nearly lost him before November was out; a happier outcome prevailed, I'm very glad to say); I made my debut on the wonderfully disreputable b3ta.com (Warning! Not Safe For Work!) site, where I have now contributed some thirty images of varying degrees of cleverness and silliness; I have had a revised piece published at Transdiffusion; and there was a lot more gardening this year than normal.
This last was due in no small measure to one of the most bizarre weather events I can recall, namely the Great Blizzard of late March. Heavy snowfalls at that time of year have not been entirely unknown hereabouts - I remember a family funeral in early April one year having a proper crimp put in it by one - but to have a period of forty-eight hours of persistent fall was, as we amateur meteorologists would say, 'kooky'. My own reaction to it was interesting, too: to start with, it was a case of thinking how good it was that I wasn't going to have to go into work on the Friday (it started on Thursday evening); then it went to marvelling at how the whole landscape of your world becomes utterly transformed in such a short period of time, as all the familiar straight lines of the vista become blurred and rounded; and then, a measure of concern growing as you start to wonder whether - in defiance of all previous evidence - the bastard thing will ever actually stop; and finally, the relief when it does, tempered by the necessity of going out and having to deal with the myriad consequences of it.
The consequences in this case meaning, primarily, The End Of The Shed, and a summer spent trying to put some order on a garden which had decided to go manic on me. Plus the fact that the flowering and leaf-bearing seasons ran much later, which meant that it was the end of November before I was able to finish putting the whole thing to bed for the year.
Beyond that, this very site itself has been at the centre of events during 2013: there was The Great Revamp, which went live at the start of the year; the one-thousandth post in March; and the tenth anniversary and its attendant thoroughly unnecessary hoop-la in early June. I still find myself wondering why the hell I carry on doing it, and there have been noticeable periods of silence - most particularly during the past couple of months - where nothing seemed worth saying about anything very much.
Anyway, enough of such domestic trivia, and on to events on these terminally-misgoverned islands of ours.
I've remarked before in these pieces about my bafflement with the seemingly all-pervading passivity of the public in the face of continuing and escalating attacks on their well-being perpetrated by people who no longer feel that they even have to disguise what it is they are doing to destroy what little may be left of what used to be called by that now-decried term 'solidarity'. Anything which aims to make our society (in as much as we have one of those anymore anyway) more fair, more equitable, more just, more humane, must be jettisoned in the name of an austerity the underlying stated rationale for which doesn't make sense even in its own terms. The constant braying of "There isn't aneh moneh!", coming from a political class which has long since pulled up the drawbridge on most of those it is there purportedly to represent, regurgitated ad nauseam from those repeater stations of the ruling class commonly known as 'the media', has succeded in convincing more than enough of what was already a seriously malinformed public that resistance to the programme of these economic extremists - the Al-Quidda, if you will - is not only seen as useless or futile, but as being in some way unpatriotic, in some re-run nightmare of the high-sewage-mark of the Thatcher era (see here for the sort of thing I mean).
In fact, in some ways it is even worse than that. For all their obvious failings and viciousness, the Government of Normans which we endured in the 1980s were at least amenable to some sort of argument; one got the feeling that, even with the likes of Tebbitt, it might be possible actually to debate fruitfully with them. That is not the case today where, to mangle Yeats, the cabinet is full of passionate intensity. An intensity which has little to do with any factual or rational basis for their positions, only that these people are True Believers™, and so will suffer no contradiction. And so it matters not an atom that the whole Project is headed by people who would in previous times have been safely removed to the margins of poltical discourse (or, at least, horsewhipped on the steps of their club) for their callous, tunnel-visioned indifference, be it the Mad Cat Lady trying to separate a man from his family for getting in the way of the enjoyment of a Day Oit On The Rivah, an attempt which was thwarted when even a judge at the immigration court thought that dear Teresa was up the pole; or the Graybeing finding yet more ways of humiliating those who have already been handed the ultimate (and ofter permanent) exclusion from any prospect of hope; or that disfiguring stain on the body politic called 'Iain Duncan Smith' - a man somehow combining against all the laws of probability the social awareness of Nicholas Ridley, the finely-tuned sensitivity to tact of a UKIP county councillor and the all-consuming, all-encompassing self-righteousness of Tony Blair, and a man who, in saner circumstances, would be of interest solely to a scarab beetle - whose platinum-reinforced confidence in the ineffable rightness of his opinions is such that no criticism, no refutation, no reflection nor any lingering awareness of Reality As She Is Lived by those who have not spent a lifetime sponging off their in-laws may be entertained in his drive to prove that The Party was wrong to have sussed him out as a dud and dropped him from the leadership a decade ago. That this means the impoverishment of hundreds of thousands of people subjected to the sanctioned removal of their only source of income, or of being declared 'fit for work' by the employees of a company singularly unqualified to judge, or even of being forced to move out of their homes because a minor functionary has decided that they are, as it were, 'over-bedroomed'; none of this matters where the amour propre of this über-twat is concerned. And when confronted with people who actually do know what they're talking about, you can either bluster you way through, or send your understrapper (the similarly egregious Esther McVay) to stand before the House and declare what a wonderful thing it is that food-banks are springing up all over the land, or you can simply stick your fingers in your ears and shout "La, la, la, I can't HEAR you!" when anyone with genuine expertise or experience wants to talk to you about your personality problems.
And, you can get away with it.
The key, of course, is to select your targets with care, in a sort of precision bombing of those deemed unlikely to hit back, or to be sufficiently demonisable as to make it possible for you to do just about anything to them without the shit-storm which would arise in any normal society.
And so, you can try to expel someone from the country if you can label his presence as 'not conducive to good order' or some such cant by portraying him as a privileged brat (and Australian to boot), even whilst encouraging the immigration of double-dyed crooks from Russia, China and the Arab states; you can safely kick prisoners because no-one cares, as they are deemed not only not of 'our' society, but scarcely even of our species; and you can beat up on social security claimants by constant repetition of de-humanising terms such as 'skivers', 'scroungers', 'malingerers' and 'entitlement junkies', and succeed because 'everyone knows' that that is what they all are; it must be true, my mate's brother-in-law said so. And, even if he didn't, it was in Daily Mail, so it must be true, innit?
Here, of course, is another important element in any plan to remove the last rotting remains of compassion from our world; get the media on-side. Not that that is in any way difficult. As all the private media outlets are owned, controlled and edited by 'our kind of people', and as the public media have been so cowed by threats - veiled or otherwise - from successive governments, ensuring their compliance with The Programme is not particularly difficult; the media establishment - as we shall see again later - considers its much-vaunted 'independence' and 'freedom' merely as tools for the cementing of their own position of embedded advantage. This has spread from their customary subterranean burrows in the press to the fur-lined warrens of the broadcasters, where non-reporting, partial (in both senses) reporting and the judicious use of slanted language have reached an extent seldom if ever seen in this country during peacetime. So it is that the BBC can get away with covering the effective privatising of the National Health Service in England either by omission or by ensuring that The Great God Balance may be appeased by making certain that every news item about the policy prominently features lobbyists for the companies which stand to make a killing out of the process (without their even having to divulge their vested interests). So it is too that the Coprophagic Corporation and its private-sector competitors can run report after report, programme after programme, where those whose voices have already been banished to - and beyond - the margins by the drip-drip-drip of propaganda of the sort I described earlier can be portrayed in a deliberately distorting mirror which - far from correcting the deliberately-sponsored misapprehensions promoted by the ruling élite - merely magnifies the grotesque stereotypes and generalisations which are, natch, honey on the fingers of those who deem their positions of dominance somehow to be divinely ordained and thereby unchallangeable.
It would be witless to try to claim that all this does not have an effect, especially when the overwhelming percentage of the populace gets its information about the world solely from such sources. And here is where something has changed this year, or at least where that change has been more noticeable than heretofore. There have been exceptions to the Great British Public™'s ovine behaviour in the face of the dismemberment of what we flatter ourselves as valuing. However, I do not mean the actions of small, well-intentioned and on the whole courageous small groups who are trying to get into the consciousness of said Public the notion that there are alternatives to the way things are deemed to have to be; as worthy as these groups, their motives, their actions, may be - be they campaigners against the terminally-bent ATOS, against the forcing of people to work for under £40 per week for large, tax-dodging corporations or for soi-disant 'charities', or students trying to prevent the further corporatisation of their college or university - the same media who yap on like a pack of dwarf jackals about their 'independence' may always be depended upon either to neutralise them by non-coverage or to marginalise them by the use of certain pictures or certain words in certain ways to patronise the viewer, listener or reader by, in effect, saying, "Look at these awful people, m'dears! They don't speak for you and me, do they?". And if that doesn't entirely succeed, then that private militia formerly known as the Police can be relied upon to go in mob-handed, crack a few heads, trump up a few charges and make sure that anyone who still insists on getting in the way - especially if they are young, and therefore of little interest to the political class - will find their lives forever afterwards on the up-and-up; that is to say, penned up, beaten up, fitted up, stitched up, banged up and fucked up.
No the GBP has been moved to action this year. Only the action has been a further turning on the weak, the powerless and anyone else otherwise deemed to be fair game. The powerful know that, in times of even the mildest and most remote threat to their positions, all that may be needed is a shortish burst of fire aimed at those considered in no position to fight back, or already to be sufficiently demonised as to elicit no sympathy, and that this will ensure that the populace are moved to turn their wrath on them rather than upon those whose arrogance, cupidity and criminality have led us to where we are. This was probably the impulse behind what I deem to be the Graffito Of The Year:
"News: rich people paying other rich people to tell the middle class to blame the poor".
Other distractions are available. If you can't procure an Olympic charade or a Royal Baby every year, then you can always create an apparent programme to arrest almost every man who was a celeb in the 70s and 80s (especially if lickle kiddies - of whom we must always be thinking, of course - are involved; leaving as a question for the class as to why those in the upper echelons of political, commercial, law-enforcement and judicial power who were at least equally up to their necks in child-abuse rings in that period and later seem to have been given a free pass; but then, that would draw attention to the 'wrong' part of the picture, and so television and radio presenters will do to distract).
This has also had the convenient effect of providing cover for the State to increase its powers of censorship and control over the Internet, a technology which has been scaring governments and corporations shitless for well over a decade now; scream "Will nobody fink of der kiddies?!!", and a government may issue threats of legislation to the service providers who, one or two courageous exceptions notwithstanding, will volunteer to censor what their customers - adults in all other senses - may be permitted to access. Unless you opt out of course; which simply means that that act of choice will be recorded on a database somewhere to be handed over in due course to one of a dizzying array of public and private organisations.
And here, m'dears, we come to the nub, crux and heart of the matter, and to something which this year has possibly changed for the better. The Big Story has been the revelations made by Edward Snowden and others that our 'freedom'- and 'democracy'-loving governments have been routinely hoovering (as in J. Edgar) up our communcations and our connections, spying upon civil society groups, and even upon supposedly 'friendly' governments and their elected leaders.
I think it would be spectacularly naïve to have thought that this was not happening; after all, if you were a large, wealthy, powerful country with a sense of Manifest Destiny™, convinced that you were not only the world's cop (by appointment to Gaaahd), but were never capable of being wrong except when you weren't being zealous enough in your pursuit of permanent dominance, then of course you would use any means at your disposal. And if, like with drones, you can get your Patriotic Chore™ done from a safe and fully-deniable distance, then so much the better.
What has changed in 2013 is that we have now had confirmed that our suspicions were not merely 'conspiracy theories' or the 'knee-jerk anti-Americanism' so decried by those who believe that the USA is the place truly good people go when they die; if anything, most of us were guilty of underestimating at least the scale of the problem. People went on for years about ECHELON and suchlike intrusions into our civic life, but that has been nothing compared to what we have learned in recent months about PRISM and similar tapping deep into our private lives as well. The extent, not only of the operations themselves, but of the complicity of our ruling classes with it - and the involvement not only of state bodies but of large private corporations as well - should have opened the eyes of enough people to make them realise that those whom we set above us (or, more accurately, those picked from the constrained circles of 'safe' people from amongst whom we are permitted to choose for the job - boat-rockers need not apply) do not ever have our interests at heart except as a co-incidental by-product, and perhaps now the public, both here and elsewhere, will view with the proper degree of deep scepticism all the justificatory claims made in support of such anti-democratic and anti-liberty behaviour, be they the 'kiddies' one, or the 'trrrst' one, or even the 'national interest' one.
A Big Debate is there to be had. But whether we will actually have it or not is another matter. Although in some countries (Brazil, for example) people have literally taken to the street to protest against this usurpation of popular sovereignty, and whilst even in the USA - that home of deep-fried passivity, unless you're demanding that the poor be allowed to die from treatable conditions, because to do otherwise would be dangerously libmuslicommunistic and contrary to the Will Of God (as told to Bill O'Reilly) - the story has received something close to its proper prominence (if only because it has revealed that state agencies have been tapping and intercepting communications involving those who pass as 'journalists' there), here in the good ole' U of K the silence has been cranked up to 11. The print media, who got their proofs in a puzzle over the mere suggestion that a more effective form of redress against their more egregious misconduct might be A Good Idea, with cries of "OMFG!! North Korea!!!", spent most of the year - when they covered the story at all - attacking the one newspaper which led strongly with the story. This may simply have been professional jealousy at work - and it wouldn't be the first time that newspapers have ganged up on one of their number who had delivered a copper-bottomed (or even copper-wired) scoop - but the overall impression one has gained is that these organs were being used - willingly allowing themselves to be used, indeed - in order for the power structure to discredit those it sees as its own enemies. And so we had the unclean sight of Tory MPs (and some Labour ones, to their further eternal discredit) lining up to seek to impugn the 'patriotism' of the editor of The Guardian, even to the point of recommending prosecuting him for treason; this following on from the spooks' charging in to the Graun's offices to demand the destruction of hard drives which ostensibly held the information (notwithstanding the editor's perfectly valid observation that copies of the documents were also held elsewhere, safely out of jurisdiction even of the Junior 007 Club) and the not over-subtle suggestions from government mouthpieces that any such 'debate' was now considered closed, irrespective of what anyone else might have thought.
In other words, in this as in everything else, the power structure has closed ranks in order to freeze the story out. Sad to say, to a large degree they have succeeded. Compared to the coverage in other countries which have been - and continue to be - victims of US over-reach and the connivance of governments in London, Wellington, Ottawa and Canberra with it, the UK media's approach seems to be that of not wanting to talk about it, almost as if it were some sort of embarrassing family secret; which, of course, it is in some ways.
When even the US media - corporate owned down to the last glint on a news anchor's million-dollar smile - have made more of the story, and have covered it in a far more thorough way, then we can see how badly served we are by the Chums who are all part of the charmed circle of power here.
Not that the US media - for all their own bloviating about how 'independent' they are - have been unwilling to be used in order to stamp on the story. After Edward Snowden's story came out, there was scarcely an opportunity missed on television and in print to portray Snowden's actions as those of a 'traitor', or simply to induldge in the persistent ad hominem that he was 'an attention seeker' and/or 'a narcissist' (the same tactics used to undermine Bradley Manning, of whom more anon) Once it became clear that Snowden - by judiciously limiting his public statements and by giving hardly any interviews - could only seriously be called an attention-seeking narcissist by someone who was resolutely determined to be laughed at, and once it became obvious that the story had more legs than an army of millipedes and that there wasn't a lid large enough or heavy enough to contain it, then the spate of character assassination began to abate.
However, Snowden's fate (holed up in temporary exile in the Russia of Vladimir Vladimirovich, a man whose commitment to open government has to be seen to be moot, when not being seen as totally risible) is a lesson in what happens when conscience is allowed by its possessor to triumph over the easy path of mute obedience. There is no way he can ever return home, unless the long-overdue Second Revolution occurs and the Constitution and Bill of Rights are returned to their proper standing as the fontibus et originibus of the United States' being; and it is unlikely that he will be able to go any place else (or, at least, any viable place else) due to the craven attitude of the governments of the entire so-called 'free world' in the face of pressure from Pennsylvania Avenue or The Pentagon. All the jabbering from the 'safe' people that Snowden should go home and face the music deliberately (which is to give them the benefit of the doubt; I'm assuming in the face of most available evidence that the jabberers are so fucking dumb as not to realise) misses the point: were he to go back to the US - or otherwise find himself 'rendered' (as the current euphemism has it) into his country's tender care - then he would be kept incommunicado in a Supermax 'facility' for two to three years, only to be brought before a court presided over by an appointed 'trusty' who would bow to all government demands that large chunks of the evidence could not be heard in open court for reasons of 'national security' (hereinafter to be defined as, "Fuck! That's embarrassing!"), and would prevent any effective public interest defence from being presented, before condemning Snowden to a minimum term way beyond that given to most homicidal maniacs.
If you think I'm over-egging it a bit, that - mutatis mutandis - is what happened this year to Bradley (later Chelsea) Manning. That Manning's court martial - taking place as it did after more than three years of confinement, and after people in positions of power (not least of whom was the Commander-in-Chief himself) had already pronounced guilt and/or sentence - was likely to be nothing more than a charade goes without saying. Although the presiding judge Colonel Lind threw out the most serious charge - that of 'aiding the enemy' - finding it too unlikely even for her to take at face value - it was clear from her demeanour and her statements that justice was never going to be found in Fort Meade, Md. And so it proved, with a sentence of such startling vindictiveness - charge upon charge sentenced consecutively rather than concurrently - that it made manifest once again the truth of Clemenceau's observation, "Military justice is to justice what military music is to music".
Manning's sentence is currently going through what passes for an appeal process, but even her own lawyer (the redoubtable David Coombs - see his recent public presentations here) is of the opinion that this will come to naught, as will any request for a presidential pardon (B.H. Obama (failed) has hardly pardoned anyone, except for the turkey in that empty annual ritual on the White House lawn), and that the best Chelsea Manning can hope for is to be released on parole at the earliest date possible - a bit over six years from now. Every one of the days between now and then will be a mark against American arrogance, ignorance and brutality, and to the cowardice of a weak machine politician who has become more dangerous to liberty throughout the world even than Tricky Dicky at the depths of his dishonesty.
Manning was not the only victim of the War on Whistleblowers (which is, in effect, a war on Freedom and Truth their very selves); John Kiriacou is less than a year in to a 30-month sentence for revealing that the US used torture on prisoners; and someone who uncovered the evidence of multiple rape of a young girl by a bunch of college meathead jocks in Ohio faces a possible prison sentence two-and-a-half to ten times longer than those handed to the rapists.
The United States is now quite clearly in a state of incipient fascism. If that word seems out of place, if only for it being used too easily in some contexts, then consider this; the classical definition of fascism is the combination of the power of the state with the power of corporations. But whereas in its classical form, this meant that the corporations were the agents of state power, now the situation is completely reversed; the state has become the method by which corporate power is given a spurious legitimacy. For, if the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of the state all nod through measures which benefit the corporations, then that makes it all right (or as the former chief crook to whom I referred a moment ago put it more succinctly, "If the President does it, that means it is not illegal"). And so the bailing out of a terminally bent financial sector continues even while people are losing their jobs - and hence, in most cases, their healthcare - and homes; the rift between The Rich and The Rest has widened to the extent that even the word 'chasm' has come to seem an understatement; corporations get free passes - or even active assistance - to trash the environment to feed the maw of mass-polluting technologies; the militarising of police forces - both municipal and collegiate - is proceeding apace, along with the same tendency to over-react to freedom of speech online as seen in the UK, such as the case of the Texas teenager Jason Carter, facing an eight-year sentence for an off-the-cuff, 'off-color' remark in a gaming session; and the mentalfundyists and those in political life whom they influence continue to tear pieces off the Constitution with which to wipe their lardy mental fundaments, the while using gerrymandered congressional districts to ensure the dominance of their agenda, including the throttling of women's reproductive rights in state after state from sea to shit-oil-and-plastic-filled sea.
Looking briefly at the rest of The Pale Blue Dot, 2013 brought the passing of two figures of world importance. Hugo Chavez divided even some of his supporters, but his key rôle in starting to turn back the filth-laden tide of the Monroe Doctrine and his government's programmes to use his country's wealth to improve the conditions of the majority of the population - anathema to the cosy, cushioned consensus of neo-liberal economics and neo-conservative politics which have dominated the planet for twenty years or more - are still examples to be followed.
And then, of course, there was Mandela. Here was a man who towered over the political consciousness and conscience of nations for a generation, but that didn't make him immune from criticism. Certainly, he brought democracy to South Africa, but the dominant rightist economics still means that his is yet another a rich country with an unconscionably large amount of poverty in it. However, this was always likely to be the result of his justifiable prioritising of seeking to heal racial and social divisions as a foundation for other things. There is no politicial figure left on this planet with the stature to influence so positively by word and by example.
(His passing also provided plenty of glorious - if somewhat emetic - examples of schadenfreude, when all those pols and parties who had called him a terrorist and called for him to be strung up (yes, I do mean you, Cameron) had hastily to backtrack and try to convince us that they had supported the struggle against Apartheid all along. The infamous 'selfie' moment at Mandela's memorial service involving Obama, Cameron and the Danish Prime Minister, a woman so obscure that she married the son of Neil Kinnock, was emblematic in that it demonstrated beyond all doubt that our lands are today headed up by self-regarding pygmies).
Elsewhere, I'm afraid that the forces of Reaction are still in the ascendant, be they the case of the latest Interchangeable Kim providing us with a novel - if somewhat extreme - solution to the perennial problem of what to buy for Christmas for that difficult uncle; or the way in which, with the possible exception of South America, governments continue to shift ever more in a rightwards direction, pandering wherever they can to the basest sentiments of the loudest parts of their respective populations, whether it be casual racism against Asians or Hispanics or Roma, or the instigation of homophobic laws in Africa and Russia at the urging of religious extremists.
What might 2014 hold?
More of the same, I suspect. There will be a referendum on independence in Scotland in September which I fear might be lost, in no small measure due to the totally lop-sided coverage of the issue in that nation's media. And so the best possible chance of a political re-alignment on this island will go by the board, and all we will have left is the stark choice between acquiescence to the same creaking, unfit corrupt power structures which have led us to where we find ourselves today, or blood on the streets (probably that of demonstrators). Something has to change and very soon, but we no longer have an effective political opposition - certainly not in parliament - and so the streets may be the only direction from which any pressure for positive change might come. But, as I said earlier, the State and those for whom it fronts will be ready, as will its embedded media, so heads are likely to be broken for nothing.
And we have the 'commemoration' of the start of World War I, although we know that this will be used - albeit more subtly than it might have been in previous times - to create a froth of fake 'patriotism' on the part of those who are so patriotic themselves that they have allowed millions of jobs to be exported to low-wage, no-protection economies and who see nothing wrong in nearly all the property in central London (and a great deal more besides) being owned by Wahhabist thugs, Chinese mass-murderers and genocidists and Russians and Uzbeks with somewhat more than a nodding acquaintance with outright fraud.
Nonetheless, flags will be waved, ceremonial cannon will be solemnly fired and the tame meeja types will impress upon us the necessity of becoming suitably sombre, although such downcast thoughts should be reserved for when we remember that those 'heroes' who managed to get home after it were unable to find a land fit for them to live in; much like their great- and great-great-grandchildren today, in fact.
And enough people will buy into it to be able to keep those who hold power over us from meeting their appointment with ropes and lamp-posts for another year. And, if I'm spared, I will be back here twelve months from now to tell you all about how things haven't changed...again.
Happy new year...and a special greeting this year to all my new readers in Cheltenham and in Bluffdale, Utah.