See My Friends

Alarming news in the Telegraph this week; apparently the average 20-something has over 1000 “friends” on social networking sites. It makes the 67 friends of my real-life Facebook account look pretty pathetic, but I’m positively gregarious compared with Johnny, my Second Life avatar, who can muster a mere 20 virtual chums (though some of them are fairly impressive, like Peter Ludlow and Bettina Tizzy). I suppose he could add in his Twitter followers, which would yield a slightly more respectable total of 94. Despite this seeming lack of interest, Johnny is “influential to a tightly formed network that is growing larger“, according to internet reputation assessors Klout, but I would take that with several pinches of virtual salt.

At least Johnny’s account seems to have survived Facebook’s latest purge of avatar profiles; being under the radar does have some advantages I guess. The site’s continuing hostility to pseudonymous accounts is mystifying, since they seem essentially harmless, and boost the membership total, which is a key metric in the social networking industry. Maybe avatar profiles use more electricity or something.

It does make one doubt the wisdomĀ of the Linden Lab strategy of encouraging residents to use Facebook though, since anyone who spent time creating a profile and carefully building up a circle of friends, only to see their work disappear in a flash, will, I imagine, be feeling pretty pissed off with the whole concept. Most long-term residents live in a perpetual fog of dissatisfaction anyway, so I don’t suppose it makes much difference.

I wonder how long it will be until Johnny heads across the river…

Gil Scott-Heron R.I.P.

More sad news; poet, musician, author and activist Gil Scott-Heron passed away yesterday. I don’t have anything to add to the obituaries that have been in every paper today; I’ll just link to his best-known work, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, and try to do what I can to follow its message.

Four Years

It was four years ago today that I started writing this blog, and I’ve managed to keep up a fairly steady flow of posts since then, with the biggest gap being about three weeks I think.

Inexplicably, my literary endeavours in this space have, as yet, failed to bring me fame and fortune. Perhaps sometime in the next twelve months the world will finally wake up to my genius, if my senses don’t fail me.

Do You Believe in Rapture?

Readers may have noted that I’ve not been posting much recently. This is of course in line with my general slacker ethos, but it’s been even harder than usual to rouse myself to action of late; what with the Rapture forecast for this weekend, blogging seems rather pointless.

I’m not entirely familiar with the finer points of evangelical eschatology, but, as I understand it, Christ himself is going to visit Earth tomorrow, and bodily transport the faithful straight to heaven, while the rest of us are left behind to face the wrath of Satan and his minions.

If this miraculous event does come to pass (the pastor predicting it may not be completely reliable), I wonder if we will actually notice much difference, apart from the sudden disappearance of the most annoying 10% of the population. Humankind is well capable of creating mayhem without Beelzebub’s input, so if the Dark Lord is given untrammelled dominion over the mortal plane he may decide just to sit back and let us go on heading straight to hell in a handcart all by ourselves.

[I couldn’t decide which of two tunes was best to accompany this post; this Sonic Youth track is one of my favourites, but it would be criminal to cover this topic without linking to this classic by Blondie.]

Caledonia rising

Almost exactly a year after the UK General Election, voters across Britain have returned to the polls, to elect local councils in England and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and to vote in the nation-wide referendum on the Alternative Vote.

To no one’s great surprise the Liberal Democrats have been given a good kicking. The Conservative vote held up pretty well, even increasing in the south of England, showing that their plan to make Nick Clegg the fall guy for their unpopular policies has worked to perfection. What did the Lib Dems get in return for taking on the role of national hate-figures? A vote on AV, which they didn’t really want since it isn’t a proportional system, and which was bound to be rejected by the electorate anyway, since it was closely associated with Clegg, whom nobody trusts now.

In England and Wales the main beneficiaries of the Lib Dem collapse have been Labour, but the real excitement has been up here in Scotland, where there has been a political realignment of the type seen only once in a generation.

The Scottish National Party swept to an impressive victory, hoovering up all the votes of disaffected Lib Dem supporters, but also making massive inroads in areas once thought to be solidly Labour, and becoming the first party in the Parliament’s history to win an outright majority of seats.

This result can be partly explained by Labour’s horribly misjudged campaign strategy – they concentrated their fire on the Tories, and explicitly stated that they saw the Scottish elections merely as a stepping-stone to regaining power in London – but it is also an endorsement of the competence of the previous SNP administration, and a sign that the Scottish electorate may be warming to the idea of independence. SNP leader Alex Salmond has promised a referendum on the issue within the lifetime of this parliament, probably in three or four years’ time, which would represent the biggest challenge to the integrity of the British State in three centuries.

I have no great love for nationalism per se, nor for the SNP, who are pro-capitalist social democrats rather than socialists, but Scottish independence would be a political shake-up on a scale that would provide a great opportunity for the left.

Interesting times ahead…

Bin gone

So, nearly 10 years after 9/11, the US has finally caught up with Osama Bin Laden. It feels like some sort of closure, though since there had been no solid proof he was alive since 2002, he was reportedly discovered living in a quiet suburb of Abbottabad, next door to the Pakistan Army’s main training college, and his body has been quickly buried at sea, (not to mention that the timing of this seems very convenient for President Obama’s re-election campaign) there is little doubt that he will live on in the fevered minds of conspiracy theorists for years to come.

It is the end of a chapter of modern history though, one that began back in the 70s when the CIA first started undermining the Afghan government, with the intention of drawing the Soviet Union into a costly war. That part of the plan worked out, but, after the Soviet withdrawal, the jihadists that the US had nurtured needed a new enemy, and found one in their erstwhile sponsors.

It seems likely that Obama will use Bin Laden’s death to start winding down the unwinnable Afghan war ahead of the US Presidential election next year, which is clearly a good outcome, albeit one that has come far too late for that conflict-ravaged region. It would be nice to think some lessons had been learned from the whole debacle, but since the US government seems to be falling ever more under the influence of the military-industrial complex, and the generals need war like a junkie needs his fix, I’m guessing that we’ll be seeing history repeat itself sooner rather than later.