Northern lights

If, as looks increasingly inevitable, our dysfunctional government is unable to negotiate an orderly withdrawal from the EU, we may, enthusiastic Brexiteers tell us, end up enjoying the delights of free trade with the rest of the globe, especially North America.

I wouldn’t say that I was particularly keen on this, not least because we already have beneficial trade arrangements with most of the world, through the EU, and any unilateral deals we negotiate, from what will be an isolated and weakened position, are likely to be inferior, particularly in the areas of labour rights and environmental protection. However I could perhaps be persuaded of the virtues of a new accord with Canada, so long as it allows for tariff-free export of that nation’s new favourite product

Counsel of despair

I’ve consciously followed political developments for almost four decades now, actively involved in various political organisations for around thirty of those years, and, while I’ve certainly experienced more than a few disappointments along the way, I’m struggling to think of a period when I’ve felt so pessimistic about the immediate future. There are a number of reasons for this, but the most immediate is the looming, and ever more likely, prospect that the country will drop over the cliff edge of an no-deal Brexit.

There are some of my comrades on the left who are actually looking forward to this, on the grounds that such a severe shock to the current system will provide plenty of opportunity to press for progressive change. I can see the intellectual appeal of that argument, but I still worry that the whole thing is much more likely to follow a reactionary course.

I’m sure my apprehension is partly attributable to the fact that, at this point in my life, my accumulated responsibilities make the prospect of tumultuous social upheaval seem rather less attractive than it did to my younger self, but it’s also grounded in a realistic appraisal of the ideological underpinning of Brexit. However much we might want to imagine that disrupting the neoliberal consensus of the EU will be a blow to international capital, the truth is that the driving force behind Brexit has always been a backward nativism, whose leaders, if given free rein, will seize the chance to reverse the gains won by the last half-century of working-class struggle.

I used to wonder what it must have felt like to live in the years before the Great War, when any attentive observer would have been aware that a multitude of seemingly unstoppable forces were pushing the continent towards disaster, while a political class wholly unequal to the challenge blundered on ineffectually, but now I think that I might have some idea.

The ill-effects of this sorry business will, of course, be less catastrophic, and largely confined to the UK rather than being global, but, still, it would be preferable to avoid them. There might just be enough time left for the country to come to its collective senses, but I fear that Brexit is something we are just going to have to live through, so that future generations can learn from our mistakes.

A gathering storm

Exciting developments Stateside, where earlier today erstwhile Trump fixer Michael Cohen stood up in a Federal courtroom to admit to conspiring with an unidentified “candidate” to break campaign finance law. Unless the person referred to turns out to be someone other than Donald Trump, which seems unlikely to say the least, it would appear that the President may be in a bit of legal bother.

Should this turn of events make me reconsider my position that Trump is safe from impeachment, in the immediate future at least? I’m not sure. It’s certainly a potential problem for him, but I can’t see that it really changes the political arithmetic ahead of the November elections to a significant degree. If anything the Cohen plea-deal just plays into the paranoid narrative about a Deep State plot against Trump that his core support want to believe.

That said, Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight is giving the Democrats a 75% chance of taking control of the House after the mid-term elections, which suggests that Trump might just be becoming an electoral liability for the GOP. Whether this would be enough to convince the Republican establishment to get on board an impeachment drive is another question. There is more to political power than election results, and having Trump in the White House, even damaged, is still an asset that can’t be given up lightly.

Trump will be unsettled by all this though, and the odds on him doing something completely irrational, even by his standards, must have shortened considerably. The next few weeks could be very interesting.

July daze

I’m fortunate enough to be at a point in my work life where I can pretty much take time off as I please, so I’ve been able to spend the best part of the last month essentially idle, enjoying the fine weather.

I’ve passed the days mostly reading and listening to music, and purposefully avoiding the internet, contenting myself with the news that I pick up from the radio in the morning, which has left me feeling a bit less well-informed, but not completely out of touch; I’m still all too aware that the country is lurching inexorably towards crisis, as the Brexit calamity looms and the government becomes ever more dysfunctional.

I’m actually not feeling particularly anxious about this, and I’m not sure that following events more closely would make me feel any better or worse; whatever is going to happen is clearly beyond my control, so resigned acceptance seems like the only rational response.

I will have to return to work at some point in the next few weeks, but I’ll try to put it off as long as the sun is still shining. Perhaps I’ll feel more energised when I’m back in my usual routine.

Deutschland unter alles

The curse of SLS strikes again, as Germany, our tip for World Cup glory, ignominiously crash out in the first round.

I guess it’s early enough in the competition to make another pick, but, to be honest, I haven’t really been paying attention, so any prediction I make will be more or less arbitrary. My carefully considered choices haven’t been up to much though, so perhaps random is the way to go; [closes eyes, stabs finger at list] Switzerland! Hmm…

Teutonic reliability

Mid-summer is almost upon us, so it seems like a good time to revisit my new year predictions, to see if they bear any likeness to how events are actually panning out.

My first forecast concerned Donald Trump’s likely tenure in the White House, and nothing has happened in the last few months to change my view that he’s going to be around for the foreseeable future. Sure, his venality, stupidity and cruelty are becoming ever more evident, but it’s equally clear that a big enough proportion of the US population, and their (Republican) elected representatives, just don’t care. Progressive fantasies of impeachment – delivered by unlikely liberal heroes the FBI – seem destined to remain just that, sadly.

What then of Brexit? The first part of my prediction – Theresa May’s government collapsing under the pressure of irreconcilable internal splits – looks like it may well come true, perhaps as early as this week, as the relatively sane sections of the Tory party try to head off a disastrously hard departure. There is no guarantee of fresh elections though, and even less certainty of a Labour victory, due to Jeremy Corbyn’s inexplicable inability to appreciate that opposition to Brexit is massively popular in his own party, and only slightly less so in the country at large. It’s equally possible that May will be replaced by some zealous leaver who will gleefully drive the country over the cliff-edge. I’m still just about able to convince myself that there might be a happy ending to this story, but it’s getting harder every day.

Oh well, on to lighter things. Germany for the World Cup? Despite the fact that they lost their opening game, with what most pundits agree was a shambolic display, I’m still backing Joachim Löw’s team to win the tournament, on the grounds that their bad spells are rarely prolonged.

Alien life? They have found organics on Mars, which is good enough for me…

Full Marx

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of philosopher and revolutionary Karl Marx, and the papers are full of articles noting that his profile is higher now than it has been since the end of the Cold War, mainly because everything he said about the development of capitalism is vividly reflected in the world around us.

I read a lot of Marx’s work, and a lot about Marx’s work, back when I was a student, and, while the fine details have become a bit hazy as the years have passed, the main themes remain central to my political thinking. I remember feeling, when I first grasped the concept of historical materialism, that I had an insight into the hidden mechanisms of society, an understanding that allowed me to see things as they really were. Of course I was young and impressionable then, and vulnerable to the allure of all-encompassing world-views, but, even with the cynicism that comes with another thirty-plus years of life-experience, the key idea – that our consciousness is shaped by our material conditions, particularly our relationship with the process of production, but that consciousness can in turn change our material conditions – still seems to me the most useful way to look at our modern age.

The promise of progress is, I think, what keeps successive generations coming back to Marxism. As the man himself said, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it“, and my favourites among the works of Marx are those which show him grappling with the issues of the day, issues that are mostly still relevant in our times, for, as Marx also commented, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce“.

So I’ll raise a glass tonight (for, by all accounts, old Karl liked a drink), in memory of a visionary mind, and in hope that I might yet live to see that vision realised.

Four-twenty

If there’s one glimmer of light in the increasingly gloomy vista that is our contemporary political landscape, it’s the gradual normalisation of marijuana use. In the US, even with a drug-hostile regime now occupying the Justice Department, the roll-out of legalisation at state level seems unstoppable, and, while we might be a bit behind the curve here in Europe (especially in the UK), medicinal cannabis is making inroads into public acceptance, and it seems only a matter of time before the prospect of relaxing the prohibition on recreational use becomes uncontroversial enough to persuade some ambitious politician that it might be a vote-winner with the youth, not to mention the ageing ex-stoner demographic.

I guess I’m broadly in favour of these developments (not that I ever have the time to get high these days), but there’s a sense of loss too, as my once radical lifestyle choice is commodified by big business into a pastime so unhip that even Canada has no problem with it.

When I was younger I looked forward to the day when my generation would grow up and take over the world, and, while legalising pot was certainly one of the things I imagined that we’d do, it is disappointing that we seem to have given up on all the other good stuff, like eradicating poverty and ending war, and are content to live like our parents did, only with better weed. Still, if, as seems increasingly likely, we’re all headed to hell in a handcart, at least we’ll be mellow…

The March of time

There were a couple of topics I thought about writing about this month (the sad demise of the NME, and the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal), but hey, here we are on the 31st, and, unsurprisingly, I’m cobbling together a lame piece of filler, just so I can kid myself that I’m still an active blogger, though why I should want to cling on to that identity is a complete mystery, as “blogger” hasn’t been an aspirational career choice since 2005 at the latest, if it ever was, and anyway I don’t have any particular talent in that direction, unless you count the ability to produce long meandering sentences that a decent editor would cut without hesitation, though perhaps the point is moot, since I’m sure any reader unfortunate enough to randomly encounter this composition will have lost the will to continue long before they reach the end.

Five Hundred

Today is Groundhog Day, which seems like a good excuse to revisit a topic we’ve covered four times previously; the centenary marker.

Post #100 appeared in December 2008, about 20 months after SLS started. I was still quite enchanted by Second Life back then, and must have spent a lot of time on the grid, judging by the long pieces I wrote about the things I came across during my wanderings.

Post #200 came at the end of 2009, and was our first “Year in Review” piece, which has gone on to become an annual tradition. I was still writing a lot about SL, though my focus had moved on from simple travelogues to consideration of the politics of the metaverse, and in-depth psychology. The year also saw some fine commentary on SL culture from our erstwhile art correspondent Olivia, which were among the most popular pieces we ever published.

Post #300 came after another 12 months, and prompted me, rather hubristically, to offer my opinions on the art of blogging; I will leave it up to you, dear reader, to judge their lasting value. Second Life was still my most frequent topic, and during this period I penned our most-read post of all time, on SL demographics , but, over the course of 2010, our drift towards more general cultural subjects became increasingly evident.

Our ever-dwindling audience had to wait nearly three years to see post #400, during which time our virtual-world coverage waned almost to zero, replaced by my political and historical musings, along with a possibly excessive amount of personal nostalgia, no doubt reflecting my growing preoccupation with the relentless passage of time.

And now here we are at post #500, our slowest century yet, at over four years. I was never the most productive of bloggers, even during our heyday of 2009/10, but I have to admit that our slowdown over the past half-decade has periodically made me wonder whether it is worth continuing with this project, especially since we have undeniably strayed far from our original mission statement.

Yet I keep going. Partly this is due to my somewhat obsessive attachment to keeping the ten year run of at-least-one-a-month posts unbroken, but mostly it’s because, in my humble opinion, there is still an occasional gem to be found in amongst all the dross.

Onward to post #600 then, which, if current trends hold true, you can expect around 2023…