Apr 2013

What’s in the wind, I wonder. Money worry.

Typical of the Irish financial industry’s inability to get anything right, today we learnt that the Central Bank is unable even to copy a couple of sentences without screwing up. In what is clearly something of an embarrassment, a limited edition silver €10 coin minted in honour of James Joyce contains an error in the Ulysses quotation inscribed upon it.

James Joyce coinThe coin features a portrait of Joyce alongside a quotation from his most famous work (and perhaps the finest work of literature in the English language). While the error, arguably, isn’t a huge one (the insertion of the word “that” in the second sentence) it reveals much about the Irish Central Bank. Either it’s just a mistake – in which case, we see once again the sheer incompetence of those in charge of our money supply. Or it’s deliberate… and we see yet more of the arrogance of our bankers, believing themselves a better judge of how the lines should flow than Joyce himself. Sheer incompetence or blind arrogance? Neither are particularly desirable traits in those who control our finances.

Personally I think the real problem is the chosen quotation. Don’t get me wrong… “Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read.” is a glorious couplet. Indeed, you could pluck a line from damn near any page of Ulysses and have a piece of writing worthy of carving into metal. I just think there are more appropriate lines given the current state of the nation. My own suggestion, for example…

I have no money but if you will lend me your attention I shall endeavour to sing to you of a heart bowed down.

Alternatively, they could make reference to the collapse of credit availability with Stephen’s line…

Where would I get money? Mr Dedalus said. There is no-one in Dublin would lend me fourpence.

And there are many many others that would better fit the mood of the times.

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Apr 2013

You could make it up (but they’d think you were high)

In a statement that took few by surprise, the world’s satirists today collectively announced their retirement. “There was some discussion about continuing in a more limited capacity”, said Armando Ianucci in an interview published in The Guardian, “I thought we could perhaps scale back to a bi-monthly sketch show on one of the smaller cable channels… but when Steve Bell read out the Downing Street press release again and the words truly sank in, well… I think we all knew it was time to pack up and go home.” Ianucci, Bell and Charlie Brooker have announced their decision to open a pub together in rural Dorset. Meanwhile the editors of The Daily Mash and The Onion have suggested that they intend to remain in digital media and will collaborate on a new website about kittens.

Margaret ThatcherThe decision by satirists to “call it a day” en masse was triggered by the announcement from Downing Street this morning that the funeral of the late Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, would have “a Falklands War theme”*.

Although details of how this “theme” will manifest are sketchy and much of the planning has yet to be completed, some suggestions have emerged from Downing Street.

  • The pall-bearers will be drawn from the armed-forces and will be selected from regiments and units that played a major part in the Falklands conflict.
  • A military fly-past will be scheduled to coincide with the coffin being carried into St. Paul’s Cathedral.
  • A representative of the Falkland Islanders who lived through the war will deliver one of the eulogies.
  • Service men and women who fought in the war will escort the carriage carrying the coffin. Those injured or disabled during the war will be asked not to attend per the original victory parade.**
  • A four second loop of Kenny Everett shouting “Round them up, put them in a field, and bomb the bastards!” will be broadcast over the national anthem on all stations throughout the day.
  • Footballers, Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa will be placed in stocks outside St. Paul’s and members of the public will be encouraged to throw rotten fruit at them during the ceremony.
  • The late Prime Minister’s funeral procession will stop briefly in Trafalgar Square while a carefully selected group of Argentine nationals will be drowned in the fountains.

When contacted for comment, a spokesman for the Cameron government made it clear that while “the primary theme” for the funeral would be the Falklands War, “Lady Thatcher’s legacy will be celebrated in a number of other ways on the sad day”.

“The government has also arranged for several Irish nationals to be denied food indefinitely”, he said. However, officials are quietly concerned that, come the funeral, not enough time will have elapsed for them to have starved to death (“they won’t even be all funny and emaciated by then!” shrieked a demented Norman Tebbit from the cockpit of an RAF dive-bomber above Buenos Aires). George Osborne, however, pointed out that “they will still be pretty hungry” and also mentioned that “we can always deal with them with a tribute to Mrs. Thatcher’s [Northern Irish] shoot-to-kill policy”.

“We are also planning to torture some Chilean nationals as a tribute to Lady Thatcher’s deep friendship with Augusto Pinochet. And we’ll probably beat up some queers and Pakis for old times’ sake”, he concluded.

Meanwhile, plans to burn down every building north of Watford have stalled due to a lack of coal.

* Look, I don’t want to undercut the humour of the piece, but I think I need to stress that bit’s not made up. They really are having a Falklands War themed funeral. The mind positively boggles.

** This, too, also happened. In the end, injured and disabled veterans were permitted to take part in the parade after a media outcry, but the original decision was to exclude them for fear they might depict the war in a negative light. Heaven forbid war should ever be viewed as anything other than glorious.

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Apr 2013

Thatcher: On balance?

On the negative side there was…

  • Support for apartheid.
  • Scorched earth monetary policy – a vast proportion of what’s wrong with the world emerged in the 80s thanks to the Thatcher/Reagan axis of evil.
  • Rampant financial deregulation – and we’re still suffering from this
  • “We are being flooded!” – speech about immigration in 1979.
  • Shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland.
  • Section 28
  • The Falklands War. I don’t support Argentina’s invasion, but the relish with which Thatcher exploited it for her own political ends was vile.
  • Massive increase in socio-economic inequality – an inevitable and wholly predictable result of her policies.
  • Fatally undermined local democracy.
  • Beginning of the end of the NHS.
  • “Make a quick buck” privatisation of essential services… introducing the profit motive where it doesn’t belong and making life worse for the average person.
  • Government contempt for a whole swathe of the workforce – social workers, teachers, NHS nurses, etc.
  • “There is no such thing as society”
  • Care In The Community
  • Support for mass murderer, Augusto Pinochet.
  • Ripping the heart out of local communities
  • Treatment of striking workers
  • Poll tax
  • Staggering increase in youth homelessness
  • Harking back to Victorian morality and constant use of the phrase “family values” from a government that included Cecil Parkinson, Alan Clark, David Mellor, Jeffrey Archer and Jonathon Aitkin
  • Beginning of the end of the UK’s genuinely progressive social housing policies.
  • Sheer, rampant viciousness.

On the positive side…

  • Before entering politics was part of the team that developed soft-scoop ice-cream.

… but as much as I like ice-cream… well.

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Apr 2013

The Cuts

Gets to the heart of things in a way a thousand opinion-pieces don’t…

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Apr 2013

Arctic Methane: Why The Sea Ice Matters

I just came across this short film (made at the end of last year) discussing the impact of Climate Change on the Arctic permafrost and the methane hydrates on the floor of the Arctic Ocean. The four contributors are right at the top of their fields and probably know as much about the Arctic environment and climate as any four people on the planet.

I should warn you, however, that what they have to say is bleak. Very bleak. It’s not for the faint-hearted. They seem to feel that unless we do something really quite dramatic to combat the rising Arctic temperatures, we are looking at a global catastrophe. The film has forced me to significantly revise my ideas about Climate Change “worst case scenarios”.

Part 2 of the film is currently in production and is to be dedicated to possible “solutions”. I’d like to think there’ll be something in it to prompt a corresponding revision of my faith in humanity to actually do anything about this. I’m firmly of the opinion that we’ll burn down the last tree before we even consider abandoning the quest for “more, more, more”.

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Apr 2013

The curious case of Inigo Wilson

This post has been brewing for about a month now. Ever since I received a letter from Mr. Inigo Wilson at the end of February asking that I remove a post from this blog. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to say about it or how I wanted to say it, but I knew I wanted to say something.

First, some background…

Way back in 2006, Tory blogger Inigo Wison wrote a piece at ConservativeHome entitled Inigo Wilson: A Lefty Lexicon. In response to this piece, Mr. Wilson was suspended from his job at telecoms firm, Orange. Although he was later reinstated, he briefly became a talking point within the blogosphere. The vast majority of people – whether they agreed with Wilson’s “Lefty Lexicon” or not – were critical of the actions of the corporation. I myself emailed the PR department of Orange to suggest that while I felt his article was wrong-headed and borderline racist, he should nonetheless be permitted to express his political views on a website completely unconnected with his employer.

Yes, I found his article pretty dreadful, but I nonetheless defended his right to publish it without censure from his employers.

However, I also wrote a piece on this blog with the title, “Inigo Wilson: thick as pigshit”. Why? Well, because anyone writing such garbage under their own (very distinctive) name while working as “spokesperson for community affairs” for a major corporation would have to be as thick as pigshit if they didn’t expect repercussions.

Palestinians – archetype ‘victims’ no matter how many teenagers they murder in bars and fast food outlets. Never responsible for anything they do – or done in their name – because of ‘root causes’ or ‘legitimate grievances’.

Inigo Wilson | A Lefty Lexicon

In my piece, I was quite unequivocal in my condemnation of Orange (and, as I say, I emailed them to say so). However, I was also quite forthright in my condemnation of Wilson. I found his piece pretty obnoxious and I found his suspension from work predictable. Anyone who has ever worked in the corporate world (as have I) and who possesses an IQ higher than that of a brain-damaged bumble-bee, would understand the consequences of publishing such an article while holding the position of “spokesperson for community affairs”. If I read a news story about someone being beaten up by a gang, I will feel dismayed at the action of that gang. However, when I read the next paragraph and discover that the victim was walking through the Broadwater Farm Estate at midnight wearing Arsenal colours and singing “One-nil to the Arsenal” at the top of his lungs…? Well, my dismay at the actions of the gang is not lessened in any way; but nor do I think it wrong of me if the phrase “what a fricking idiot!” springs unbidden to my mind.

No, the attack is not justified. But it is predictable. Likewise with Wilson’s suspension. Which is the point I made in my article… albeit rather forcefully.

Islamophobic – anyone who objects to having their transport blown up on the way to work.

Inigo Wilson | A Lefty Lexicon

Anyway, thanks to my ‘Mad SEO Skillz'(tm) my post appeared at the top of google results for “Inigo Wilson”. Any time someone typed “Inigo Wilson” into google, they were greeted by the phrase “Inigo Wilson – thick as pigshit” in bright blue bold letters at the top of the page. I wasn’t actually aware of this, never having recourse to type “Inigo Wilson” into a search engine, but clearly Mr. Wilson has been doing a little Egosurfing over the years (and let’s be honest, who hasn’t at one time or another?) and was less than happy at the results.

Which is why at the end of February I received a registered letter from Inigo Wilson (why he didn’t just email me, I don’t know) requesting I remove the “offensive” post.

Back to the present…

It goes without saying that my first reaction to the letter was “over my dead body!” The article that provoked Wilson’s suspension (and the condemnation of about half the blogosphere) has not been removed despite – I am quite certain – numerous requests to do so. It’s still there for all to see. If Wilson refuses to take down something he wrote that offended a whole bunch of people, why should I – at his behest – take down something I wrote because it offended one or two? I suspect that any request to remove “A Lefty Lexicon” would be met with faux-hysterical shrieks of “left-wing censorship!!” and the more hyperbolic of Wilson’s advocates would doubtlessly use the term “Stalinist”.

So yes, my first reaction to the letter was one of irritation. Here’s a guy who under the cloak of “humorous satire” labelled all Palestinians, “murderers” and equated Islam with terrorism. But he gets his knickers in a twist when someone calls him thick. Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it, Inigo. Why the hell should your capacity for offence trump anyone else’s? And why did you write such an article if you felt that people had some sort of right not to be offended? We’re all hypocrites from time to time, but this was particularly brazen.

But then I went back and re-read my piece, and you know what? I wasn’t impressed with it. It had been dashed off in a few minutes and not only wasn’t it well-written, it actually came across as mean-spirited. Uncharacteristically so for me (in my view). So after some hmming and hahing, I decided to remove the post from The Quiet Road. I just wasn’t proud of it, even if I still completely agreed with the sentiment. And just because I felt that Wilson’s original article was mean-spirited doesn’t absolve me of the same offence. On top of that, and despite my best efforts to avoid it, I did feel kind of bad for the guy. I wouldn’t be too happy to see my name followed by “thick as pigshit” pop up every time anyone googled me. My opinion about Wilson’s article and the whole farrago surrounding its publication haven’t changed, but I’m not comfortable hanging a digital millstone around his neck like that.

At the same time though, I didn’t feel comfortable just taking it down and saying nothing. Letting it disappear down the memory hole. As I say, Wilson has felt no compulsion to remove an article that he knows offended many people (I’m not personally offended by it, incidentally… I tend not to take offence at such things… but I do see how others could be. So in that sense, it’s definitely “an offensive” article). Also, by revisiting the whole thing I ended up re-reading not only his original article, but several others spawned by the brouhaha. For example, there’s the celebratory post at ConservativeHome upon Wilson’s reinstatement at Orange. It concludes with the sentence:

I understand that emails from supporters of Inigo outnumbered emails against him by more than five-to-one… a real victory for the conservative blogopsphere and a real defeat for those Muslim extremists who want to close down debate.

ConservativeHome | Inigo Wilson reinstated

First up, describing it as “a real victory for the conservative blogopsphere” is plain nonsense. I know at least two bloggers, excluding myself, who would be considered “of the left” by conservatives and who emailed Orange to support Wilson’s right to publish his article despite their distaste for it. I doubt we were the only three. But heaven forbid we should expect balance or fair-mindedness from such a partisan source. Also, the notion that his suspension was the result of “Muslim extremists who want to close down debate” is utter twaddle of the highest order. It’s a statement made either by someone who hasn’t the faintest idea how corporate PR works, or who does know how corporate PR works but wants to take a cheap shot at Muslims. I suspect it’s the latter because that’s the kind of nastiness one expects from Tories.

And when I re-read Inigo Wilson: A Lefty Lexicon, I found myself irritated by it all over again. Not only isn’t it the slightest bit funny, it’s badly researched, badly written and – as I say – pretty mean-spirited. So while Mr. Wilson will now be spared the “thick as pigshit” soubriquet, his article does not deserve a free ride. Let’s take a look at it…

Inigo Wilson: A Lefty Lexicon

The article begins with several paragraphs decrying what he views as a “curious Lefty-inspired patois”. By this he means the vague, euphemistic language of spin that has utterly engulfed political and corporate communication. This isn’t – of course – “Lefty-inspired” at all, but aside from that, I’m in complete agreement with his initial sentiment. The language of “spin” does indeed damage our cultural discourse and should be resisted. But Wilson’s notion that the root of such deliberate obfuscation can be found in left-wing, post-modern academia displays a breath-taking ignorance of the history of propaganda. For that is what this is; make no mistake; it’s propaganda. Over the years the actual techniques change as the culture evolves and the expectations of the audience shifts, so the specifics of the “patois” shift and mutate, but it’s something that’s been going on for years before post-modernism came on the scene.

I’m pretty sure there’s something about it in Machiavelli’s The Prince – for example – though don’t hold me to that as it’s almost two decades since I read it. However, it’s definitely addressed in Gustave Le Bon’s hugely influential text, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (published in 1895… a little while before those dastardly post-modern academics gained such a stranglehold on our civilisation). Le Bon’s trenchant views on the subject of white-European racial supremacy would probably exclude him from the kind of ‘Lefty academia’ that Wilson considers so insidious. Le Bon’s views were dissected and critiqued by Freud when Uncle Siggy wrote on the subject of Mass Psychology. But Edward Bernays was less discerning (as was Adolf Hitler who incorporated a number of Le Bon’s ideas into Mein Kampf).

Bernays is seen as the father of “spin”, and was about as far from being a “Lefty” as it’s possible to get. His books provided the template for the modern public relations industry which is actually where this tendency towards vague language and obfuscation originates in the modern era. Remember his “torches of freedom“? Was there ever a more insidious use of spin?

George Orwell’s glorious “Politics and the English Language” is an early example of criticism of this kind of euphemistic language. In reality, both left and right wings are equally capable of twisting language for political purposes. Equally capable and equally guilty. However, I do find it interesting that the “manual” on how to do it emerged from The Right, and the first well-known attack on it comes from The Left. Precisely the opposite of Wilson’s ill-researched analysis (though anyone who – with a straight face – describes the Blair government as “left wing” probably can’t be trusted when it comes to politics).

In fact, before I go any further, let’s clarify something about modern politics (I’m talking here about western liberal democracies here). There is no longer any mainstream left. It has completely disappeared. That’s not hyperbole. The modern political spectrum has been narrowed to such an extent that it now extends from the “pretty dodgy right wing” all the way to the “centre right”. The Blair government didn’t advocate a single genuinely left wing policy… they weren’t quite as bad as the previous and subsequent Tory governments, that’s true, but the attempts to redistribute wealth from top to bottom were half-hearted tokenism at best. Where were the wholesale nationalisations and massive increases in wealth taxation? Those are genuine left-wing policies, and anyone who felt the Blair / Brown administrations implemented them are just plain wrong.
Modern political spectrum
Modern politics has completely integrated the capitalist conservative model. Every mainstream political party in northern Europe and the United States is a right wing party. Every single one. Southern Europe has seen a (very recent) resurgence in socialist parties in response to the financial crisis. But even there, none of them have actually gained power and those that came close (I’m thinking specifically of Syriza in Greece) still don’t quite make it all the way around to “Socialism” on that graphic… though they are at least pushing that direction.

Personally, I don’t locate myself on that graphic. Anarcho-syndicalism with technocratic leanings doesn’t really fit into the standard left-right model though I obviously find far more allies on the red side of the picture than I do on the blue. But when you have “Labour” parties (in the UK and Ireland) aggressively pushing free-market policies of privatisation, they can no longer be described as “of the left”. To do so merely betrays a lack of imagination, a complete ignorance of political philosophy and a refusal to update one’s belief system in the face of new evidence. It’s essentially a faith-based position.

So Wilson’s introductory section to his Lefty Lexicon is not only badly researched when it ascribes the politically motivated use of obfuscation to “the left”, it also completely fails to acknowledge the realities of the modern political landscape. It is conservatism at its most pure – steeped in the mythology of a non-existent past and seasoned with a generous dash of wish-fulfilment.

And it gets no better. The actual lexicon is – I think – supposed to be funny though I can’t see how it would raise even a smile in anyone other than a blindly partisan conservative. It even finds itself guilty of the very thing it’s supposed to be lampooning – the political twisting of language. For example, we have:

Fascism/Nazism – apparently the ‘opposite’ of Socialism – despite sharing party members, ideology and – in National Socialism – the name.

Inigo Wilson | A Lefty Lexicon

The clear implication of this entry is that ‘National Socialism’ is somehow connected with ‘Socialism’ because of “the name”. Somehow I doubt this is coming from a man who honestly believes ‘The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’ is genuinely ‘democratic’. But look… it’s part of the name! That must mean something, right? Or does it only mean something when it’s politically convenient? Talk about spin.

Wilson’s piece does contain some valid criticism of the more nonsensical recent examples of vague political language and management-speak. The entries on ‘Consultation’, ‘In partnership with’, ‘Issues around’ and ‘Key’ (amongst others) make legitimate if obvious points. However, he also pours scorn on “Green issues”, the notion of institutional racism and even “human rights”. This doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Praising the United States for being the “world’s most productive economy” is akin to praising the former Soviet Union for having the world’s most productive biological weapons facilities. If you honestly think that converting the world’s natural resources into cheap consumer garbage destined for landfill constitutes “productivity” then it might be time to reassess your use of that word.

In conclusion

So yeah. I removed the original blog post as per Mr. Wilson’s request. It wasn’t a good piece. It was slightly nasty, which really isn’t how I want to be. And for that, I’m genuinely sorry (I wouldn’t have removed it if I wasn’t sorry, so you can take that apology to the bank). However, it wasn’t half as bad as the piece that started all this. I wanted to address that piece as well as draw attention to the fact that I’ve removed an article from my blog – something I don’t like to do without explanation (especially if it has generated a comment thread). And that’s all I have to say on the subject for now.

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