2018: The Year in Review – Part 2: Blogging

We’ll start with the facts; our top ten posts of the year, by traffic:

  1. Second Life demographics – a brief review
  2. Free Pussy Riot!
  3. Watching the Okhrana
  4. Five Hundred
  5. There is no land beyond the Volga
  6. From Off the Streets of Cleveland
  7. The future is now
  8. Drone on
  9. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
  10. On Second Life and addiction

As has been the case for the last few years most of these are from the archive; the demographics piece is perennially popular, but I have no idea why some of the other posts are still getting hits, years after they were published. Three entries from 2018 did make it onto the list, including our look back over our first 500 posts, and what I thought was our best piece of the year, my reflection on the passing of Ursula K. Le Guin. I can’t say that any of our other posts were particularly noteworthy, except perhaps our celebration of Marx’s birthday, or our obituary for Pete Shelley.

We received visitors from 47 countries, the same as last year, but down a bit from the global reach we had back in the day; here are the top ten:

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Canada
  4. China
  5. India
  6. Germany
  7. Belize
  8. Australia
  9. Portugal
  10. France

These are more or less the places we have always been popular, apart from Belize, from where we had an inexplicable surge of traffic for a couple of months in the summer. I’d like to think that there’s a small community of hard-core SLS fans hiding out in the Central American rainforest, but I guess it’s more likely to have been Russian hackers trying to infiltrate WordPress to subvert the US midterm elections or something.

Readers will have noticed that this blog has undergone something of a renaissance in the past few weeks; we’ve posted more pieces in the last month than we managed in the previous eleven. This has been fuelled by anxiety; as we’ve noted a couple of times in the past blogging can be a therapeutic response to situations that are outwith our control. Since there is no indication that the political crisis is going to get any better in the new year, I expect our current purple patch will continue for a while yet.

So, on that sort-of-happy note, I’ll wish you all a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

2018: The Year in Review – Part 1: Culture

Time for our annual run through my cultural highlights of the year – as usual everything is on our Tumblr.

Music – buying records has become my main cultural pursuit over the last few years; I’m fortunate enough to have the resources to purchase anything that catches my fancy, and, since nothing is more than a click away these days, I do get a lot. That said, the stuff I actually end up listening to regularly doesn’t tend to vary that much. Here, in no particular order, are my top ten albums of the year:

  • Floating Features – La Luz
  • Wide Awake! – Parquet Courts
  • Goners – Laura Gibson
  • Quit the Curse – Anna Burch
  • Future Me Hates Me – The Beths
  • Paycheck – Pip Blom
  • Fall into the Sun – Swearin’
  • Possible Dust Clouds – Kristin Hersh
  • Clean – Soccer Mommy
  • The Lookout – Laura Veirs

I kept up a fairly regular rhythm of gig-going; my favourite show was Parquet Courts, though La Luz and The Beths were a lot of fun too.

Film – I had a pile of DVDs I wanted to watch this year, but didn’t get around to; I don’t seem to have the time, or perhaps the attention span, to sit through a whole movie very often these days. Of the few I did see, The Love Witch was my favourite. My few cinema trips were mostly social affairs – I saw The Greatest Showman, and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, neither of which I would have chosen to go to alone, but both of which I enjoyed unironically. Far and away the best film I saw all year though was one I did go to see of my own volition – Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs.

Books – I’ve been reading a lot about existential philosophy in the last half of the year, no doubt because I’m getting older, and struggling more with the absurdity of life. Mostly it’s been articles in places like the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, but also The Myth of Sisyphus by Camus, and de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity. It’s not an area that I was unfamiliar with, though I hadn’t read much of the original material before, but it does seem a lot more relevant now than it did when I was in my 20s. My fiction highlights were completing my annual volume of Proust, The Sweet Cheat Gone (only one more to go for the set), belatedly catching up with Shark and Phone, the sequels to my favourite book of 2013, Will Self’s Umbrella, and taking a rare dive into poetry with one of the Booker Prize nominees, The Long Take, by Robin Robertson. My favourite read of the year though was more existentialism; Simone de Beauvoir’s 1954 novel The Mandarins. Although the questions debated by the characters in the book may seem to be dated – there’s a lot about the Soviet Union – the underlying message, of the responsibility we have to engage in political activity to at least try to change the world, couldn’t be more relevant in today’s troubled times.

Next up: The Year in Blogging.

2018 Forecast results

Our review of the year is on the way, but first let’s see how accurate the predictions we made back in January turned out to be:

Donald Trump will still be President of the United States at the end of 2018. There’s still a day to go, but it looks like I got this one right. Trump’s problems seem likely to multiply in the near future, but even if Mueller and the Democrats uncover enough evidence of malfeasance to impeach him ten times over, the Republican Senate will remain reluctant to convict. If his incompetence starts to hurt the economy too much there may be some face-saving deal whereby Mike Pence assumes actual power behind the scenes, but I’m willing to hazard a guess that Trump will end up seeing out his full term.

There will be another Brexit referendum. The jury is still out on this question, even though less than one hundred days remain before the UK is due to crash out of the EU. At the start of the year I thought that the matter would be settled by the summer, but I underestimated the degree to which our political class would prove unequal to the challenge of managing this self-induced crisis. A parliamentary vote on Theresa May’s proposed exit agreement is due in the new year, but this seems likely to deepen the divisions in the country rather than resolve them, so all outcomes, from no-deal to no-exit, remain on the table. I’ll hold off making any more forecasts on this topic for now; things may become a little clearer by the end of next month.

Germany will win the 2018 World Cup. There’s no way to spin this; I was spectacularly wrong, as Jogi Löw‘s much-fancied team had their worst result in a major tournament since 1938. I’ll need to do some more homework before Euro 2020.

Definitive proof of extraterrestrial life will be found by the end of 2018. Organics on Mars, an interstellar visitation, and alien lights over New York – I’ll give myself this one.

Happy holidays

Well, we’re going to take a break from fretting about the state of the world, and lose ourselves for a day or two in a haze of intoxication and gluttony; I’d strongly advise everyone else to do the same. We’ll be back before the end of the month with our review of the year.

The Gatwick drone trials

When I posted our last piece about the drone drama at Gatwick airport, it did cross my mind that perhaps there were no mysterious flying objects, and it was all just a case of mass hysteria. I dismissed this thought though, because, I reasoned, the authorities surely wouldn’t shut down a major transport hub, causing massive disruption, not to mention millions of pounds of economic damage, without concrete proof that there was actually something going on.

Once again though it appears that I am guilty of overestimating the wisdom of the powers that be. Having investigated the case, the police have failed to come up with any photographs or film of the supposed intruders. They did find on old, wrecked, drone near the airfield, but it’s not clear that it was connected to recent events. They also arrested an unfortunate local, his neighbours having apparently grassed him up for owning a model helicopter, but were forced to release him when it turned out he had a cast-iron alibi. In light of all this the officer in charge has admitted that perhaps people had let their imagination get the better of them.

It all goes to show that, even in our technologically-advanced era, a good old-fashioned witch-scare can still catch the public fancy. This one has been fairly harmless I guess, but a similar dynamic can drive much darker sentiments, especially in the febrile political environment we find ourselves in. Throw in the flame-fanning effect of social media, and it all gets pretty scary. I’m hoping that that they get on and legalise marijuana already, so we can all just chill the fuck out.

Drone on

As if the current state of the country wasn’t depressing enough, we learned today that the aeronautical infrastructure of the nation can be paralysed by anyone with a couple of thousand pounds to spend on a medium-sized drone, and the nerve to hide near an airport buzzing the runways.

It is rather alarming that the mystery controller, or controllers, behind this stunt are still at large, despite intensive searches by the police, and the deployment of the army. Reports say that Gatwick will remain closed tomorrow, and presumably every other airport in the country will be on a state of high alert, ready to shut down at the first sign of anything unusual.

I remember reading somewhere about military radar that can track the source of incoming shells, to direct counter-battery fire, and I would have thought that might be useful in this sort of situation, though I guess that dropping high-explosive rounds onto what will probably turn out to be a couple of bored teenagers might be felt to be overkill. Still, if I’d been stuck in a departure lounge for 36 hours I might have fewer qualms about it…

Feeling the fear

A few more days have passed, and it’s become clearer that the government have only one plan for Brexit, and that is to scare the hell out of everybody with the spectre of no-deal, presumably with the hope that a terrified population will put pressure on their elected representatives to approve whatever face-saving deal the EU, out of pity, offer us.

And you know what? It’s working, on me at least. While many commentators say that this must be a bluff, since no responsible politician could possibly take such a risk with the country’s future, I’m starting to believe that they may well end up driving us off the cliff, whether they mean to or not. Maybe we Europhiles should accept the need for a tactical retreat, take the not-calamitous option that is on the table now, and hope we can sneak back in at some point in the future.

Another part of me is saying that we should hold our nerve, and force May to concede that another referendum is the only way to break the stalemate. Time is running desperately short though…

A prayer for the deaf

It was reported today that the Archbishop of Canterbury has been praying for divine intervention to resolve our current political crisis, which does sound like a more realistic plan than anything the government has come up with recently.

The latest rumours are that a faction of the cabinet are agitating for a “people’s vote” to break the impasse, though whether this is true, or just propaganda designed to scare leave-leaning MPs into supporting the May deal, is anyone’s guess. I’d hazard the prediction that “no referendum” will be the government position, right up until the point when it isn’t.

Continental rebuff

Theresa May travelled to Brussels yesterday, determined to demand a better deal from the EU, and returned today with the guarantee on the temporary nature of the Irish backstop that she needed to win the support of her troublesome backbenchers.

Only joking! In the least-surprising diplomatic development since Agamemnon sailed for Troy, the European Council gave May short shrift, leaving her already threadbare authority practically nonexistent.

More optimistic observers are predicting that this turn of events might persuade May that a fresh referendum, pitching her deal against no Brexit, is the only way forward. I think this underestimates her unwillingness to bear responsibility for the split in the Tory Party such a plan would inevitably precipitate, though nothing is too extraordinary to contemplate these days, so it may well happen.

The immediate question is whether Labour will go for the kill by tabling a no confidence motion in the next week or so, while the hard-core Brexiteers are still riled-up enough that they might vote to bring down their own government. One would imagine that Labour would win any subsequent election though, which would take a hard exit off the table, so I think some semblance of Tory discipline will probably reappear, and they will concentrate on running down the clock so that we crash out by default.

That’s how it looks to me tonight; events will probably prove me wrong by tomorrow. It’s exciting enough to keep me blogging regularly, so it’s not all bad news…

Confidently unconfident

Another day of breathless drama in Westminster, which, on closer examination, has changed nothing. The Prime Minister may have survived an attempted defenestration at the hands of her own party, but the broader political landscape has hardly altered.

There is nothing to suggest that May’s temporary victory will make it any more likely that her proposed Brexit deal will make it through Parliament. At least a third of Tory MPs remain opposed, and the EU is not going to make a better offer, so the impasse remains.

The only cause for optimism is that May now may have a little more scope to face down the wilder elements of her own party, and start to build a coalition that can steer through a relatively soft Brexit. Even that will be a national calamity though, and the grim prospect of a no-deal scenario is still lurking in the background, so I don’t think that I’ll be sleeping easier any time soon.