Information overload

Today is apparently the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web (again), which seems like a good excuse to reflect on the future of our own little contribution to the medium, namely this blog.

One of the many statistics that I’ve seen bandied about today is that, of the billion or so web pages in existence, around 75% are inactive. I’m not sure exactly what the definition of “inactive” is in this context, but I’d have to admit that SLS, with our relaxed update schedule, must be at least flirting with it.

Why is this? It’s not as if I’ve become any less opinionated in the last couple of years, and there’s certainly no shortage of subjects to comment upon. If anything that’s the problem; the sheer deluge of information, handily delivered at all hours of the day, means I never have time to stop and write about anything before I’m distracted by the next item on the timeline. Even when I do pause long enough to start to formulate some thoughts on a subject, I tend to be discouraged by the feeling that someone else will undoubtedly have already expressed them, and probably more eloquently, a suspicion that I can usually confirm with a couple of clicks.

Would it really matter if this blog slipped into a permanent limbo? To the world, I guess not, but I would feel more than a twinge of regret. I enjoy reading our old posts, and it would seem like a shame to give up just when we are closing in on our tenth birthday.

So what’s to be done? I have to drop back to a slower pace of news acquisition; perhaps I should start reading actual papers again, instead of addictively clicking on a Facebook feed. I could get rid of my smartphone and attempt to wean myself off of the need to be constantly connected. I might even try just hanging out with my friends and talking about stuff, like we used to do back in the old days.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’ve tasted the sweet drug that is the modern internet, and I’m not about to give it up. I’ll just have to try harder not to be so passive…

Come what May

Rather sooner than expected we have a new Prime Minister; Theresa May has ascended to the top job in a fashion that, even for this country, seems astonishingly undemocratic. The chaotic state of the opposition may incline her towards seeking a personal mandate by way of an early election, but, given that her predecessor exited after an ill-judged consultation of the population, I suspect that is a temptation she will resist.

One of May’s first actions has been to appoint her erstwhile opponent Boris Johnson to the post of Foreign Secretary, presumably working on the principal that one should keep one’s friends close, and one’s enemies closer. Still, it seems like a risky choice; Johnson’s decidedly undiplomatic style will probably have us at war with half of Europe before the month is out.

Obscure future

Well, for about 109 minutes there it looked like I might have finally produced an accurate football tournament prediction, but no luck, for me nor France.

My political forecasting skills are not much better; despite my confident assertion that Boris Johnson would be the next Prime Minister he didn’t even make it on to the ballot. Instead we are to have a female premier, which sounds like it should be progressive, but neither Theresa May nor Andrea Leadsom are exactly hard-core feminists, so perhaps not.

There had been talk of an early election, but that possibility seems to be receding, and with it hopes that Brexit could be averted by some sort of democratic means. There are a couple of legal cases pending that seek to overturn the referendum result, but, aghast as I was at the leave vote, I would hesitate to change the outcome by such a method, since it would only drive already alienated sections of the population into the arms of the far-right.

I guess we just have to play the long game; as the Chilcot Report has shown, progressive positions are usually vindicated with the passage of time, even if it is years too late to make any difference.

Euro 2016 forecast

On a lighter note, the other big question in Europe yet to be resolved is that of which team will emerge victorious in Euro 2016. Since my record of predicting the winners of big tournaments is little short of woeful, I’ve waited until the quarter-final lineup has been finalised before hazarding a guess – France to beat Belgium in the final. So put your money on Iceland

So long, farewell, auf weidersehen, goodbye

Well, it’s been a few days, and no government minister has come on to the TV to tell us it was all a mistake, and they’d miscounted or something, so I guess I’ll have to accept that Brexit is a thing, and it is going to happen.

I’m not alone in my reluctance to believe that a majority of the population have chosen to follow a course of action which, however one looks at it, seems imprudent to say the least; numerous Leave supporters apparently thought they were casting protest votes that wouldn’t actually change anything, and even the leaders of the campaign appear to be flabbergasted by its success, and to have no idea what to do next.

David Cameron has resigned, hardly surprising given that he had needlessly precipitated the biggest foreign policy blunder since the loss of the American colonies, leaving the ship of state rudderless just as we are about to hit the rocks. Boris Johnson, Cameron’s likely successor, doesn’t inspire much confidence, but, since the opposition have chosen this opportune moment to to descend into internecine warfare, it looks like we will have to rely on him to negotiate a good exit deal with our now thoroughly pissed-off neighbours, while simultaneously trying to stuff the fascist genie back into the bottle, which might be quite a challenge once the disaffected masses find out that the Leave campaign promises were just empty propaganda.

All in all the outlook is gloomy. The one ray of light, in this neck of the woods at least, is that there may be a second independence referendum, giving us a chance to stay attached to Europe, and gain a little breathing space to start rebuilding some sort of progressive movement. A lot of pieces will have to fall into place before we’ll see a happy ending though.

Separation anxiety

Last week wasn’t a great one for anybody who has some residual belief in the intrinsic goodness of humankind, what with homophobic mass murder and political assassination, set against a background of the cross-Atlantic crypto-fascism that underpins Trumpism and Brexit.

I’m still just about convinced that there is no way the US electorate will take leave of its collective senses and hand the keys of the republic to the Donald – there is a non-negligible chance that he won’t even make it on to the ballot – but domestically I’m much less optimistic that the Remain case will win out out once the votes are counted in the EU referendum this week.

The consequences of a Leave victory hardly bear thinking about; economic meltdown and the far-right triumphant just for starters, with worse to follow. I’m hoping that the looming reality of such a doomsday scenario will focus the minds of those on the left who are thinking of voting for an exit, or abstaining, and convince them that such a course of action is absurdly risky. I’m aware that there is a perfectly sound progressive case against the EU, but that’s a fight for another day; it’s clear that in the current political context nothing good will come from handing a victory to the most reactionary elements of British society.

It’s all an unsettling reminder of the way that one’s life can be upended by events almost completely outwith one’s control. I guess I’ll know by Friday whether my gut feeling that people are basically decent is accurate, or hopelessly naive.

Exit Flagger

In a development that seems at once unbelievable and inevitable, Donald Trump has emerged triumphant from the Republican nomination process. While this means that we will be denied the amusing spectacle of a contested convention (to the relief, no doubt, of the citizens of Cleveland), it does promise lots of entertainment over the next six months as Trump leads the GOP to a humiliating and perhaps fatal defeat.

In contrast, the election we are having here tomorrow has generated a campaign of insufferable dullness, as our politicians have largely avoided controversy in a rush to paint themselves as competent technocrats. Not for us anything like the exciting, if somewhat limited, campaign of Bernie Sanders; the left in these parts is so thoroughly marginalised that even centre-right social democrats can paint themselves as radicals. On the other hand, we haven’t given time to any fascist demagogues, so I guess our political culture has that going for it.

But any temptation we UK leftists may have to feel smug about the stupidity of the US electorate, or at least the Republican segment of it, for entertaining the notion of a President Trump, is likely to be squashed over the next few weeks, as we approach polling day in the Euro referendum. While the issue hasn’t quite caught fire with the public yet, all sorts of reactionaries have been crawling out of the woodwork, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the vote could go in favour of Brexit, a result that would negate most of the social progress of the last half-century. While our transatlantic cousins will probably step back from the abyss by electing Hillary, we might end up jumping right in.

Lovesexy

I guess it’s an indication of my limited musical horizons, or perhaps just that I’m a terrible and shallow human being, but, for me, the entirety of Prince’s 37-album, endlessly-innovative, genre-melding, racially-integrating, PMRC-baiting revolution of a career boils down to a nostalgic fondness for his 1988 track Alphabet Street, because it reminds me of a girl I knew in college. I think the late Artist would have approved of what we did while listening to that record though…

High times

Another 4/20 has rolled around, and I’m glad to say that it’s looking like the tide of marijuana legalisation is unstoppable, in the US at least. The dope business is booming in Colorado and Washington, and, more importantly, pot is becoming an uncontroversial part of everyday culture. It’s not hard to imagine that weed will be legal in most if not all of the country before President Clinton finishes her first term.

It’s not clear how much impact this will have on drug policy in Europe, but hopefully the successful US experience, not to mention the tax dollar bonanza, will nudge things in the right direction before too long. At the very least it’s given me another incentive to plan a long-overdue trip Stateside sometime soon…

Top Trump?

In the immediate aftermath of Super Tuesday it looked like the GOP establishment was facing three equally unappealing options; a) let Trump have the nomination and back him in the general election, b) let Trump have the nomination, but back a rival “Real Republican” candidate, or c) deny Trump the nomination through convention shenanigans, undoubtedly provoking him into an independent run. It’s difficult to imagine any of these scenarios ending unhappily for the Democrats.

Events since then have muddied the waters a little though. Cruz did well enough in the subsequent polls to strengthen his claim to be the leading “Stop Trump” candidate, and, unless Rubio and Kasich pull out something special in Florida and Ohio respectively, it might soon be a two horse race. Simultaneously, the chaos and violence lurking under the surface of the Trump campaign has been bubbling up enough to give his less ardent supporters some doubts about his Presidential caliber, and the long-predicted ebbing of his fortunes may finally start to materialise. It could be close enough come July that a brokered convention, which right now appears a bigger affront to democracy than even the GOP could stomach, might be more palatable.

Still, the eventual candidate, be he the unlikable Senator or the unlikable businessman, will be faced with the challenge of pivoting towards the middle ground where elections are won and lost, without alienating the Republican base. This task, which proved well beyond McCain and Romney, has become significantly harder in the last eight years as the wingnuts have taken over the grassroots of the party, so, even if outright civil war is avoided, a Republican win in November looks unlikely.

On the Democratic side, the maths still seems to favour Hillary, Bernie’s surprise victory in Michigan notwithstanding, so, barring some unforseen disaster, there should be a Clinton in the White House again before too long. I was in Times Square the night Bill was first elected – it might be time to plan another visit…

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