Unpacific heights

The undoubted highlight of 2022 for me was my trip to the US in the summer. I had a particularly agreeable time in San Francisco; lazy days in peaceful parks, intriguing art in quirky galleries, culinary discoveries in exciting restaurants, and a climate that was pleasantly warm, but without the stifling heat and dust of Los Angeles.

I’ve been daydreaming about returning to the Bay Area more or less from the moment I stepped off the return flight, but I must admit I’ve been given some pause by the news today that the SFPD are planning to enhance their crime-fighting effectiveness by deploying killer robots on the city streets.

The actual story is perhaps a little less alarming than the lurid headlines; the androids in question will not be autonomous, and will only be armed in extraordinary circumstances, but still, I’ve seen Robocop, and Terminator, not to mention Blade Runner, so I know one can’t be too blasé about these things. I guess I could always move to Oakland instead…

Martian forward

In a week when discouraging news wasn’t hard to find – the war in Ukraine spilling over into Poland, Donald Trump hitting the comeback trail, the UK government gearing up for another round of austerity – it was heartening to see NASA’s Artemis spacecraft finally get off the ground.

We’ve written before of our disappointment that, well into the 21st century, lunar bases aren’t yet a thing, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that the mission goes without a hitch, and the project to use the moon as a stepping stone to Mars comes to fruition within my lifetime. I don’t think things on Earth are quite so bad that leaving the planet is our only hope, or not yet at least, but it’s good to have a plan B…

BBC centenary

It was one hundred years ago today that the British Broadcasting Company, as it was then, transmitted its first programme on the wireless, a news bulletin from London, covering, among other things, billiard scores and the foggy weather. Or it may have been a children’s programme broadcast the previous day from Manchester; records of those pioneering days are a little sketchy.

Whatever the details, when viewed from the perspective of today’s fractured and fractious media landscape it’s hard not to feel a sense of longing for the days when broadcasting was viewed as a way of “spreading culture and good sense”, an antidote to the horrors of the Great War. More recently, the internet seemed to hold similar promise, but that hasn’t really worked out either. Perhaps the next telecommunication revolution will be more successful…

Jean-Luc Godard RIP

The Grim Reaper has been busy in the last few weeks, claiming some genuinely significant figures; first Mikhail Gorbachev, now Jean-Luc Godard.

You may not be surprised to learn that I watched a lot of Godard’s Nouvelle Vague films when I was a student, but I have to admit that, À Bout de Souffle, Bande à Part, and Alphaville apart, they have pretty much merged in my mind into one long, disjointed montage of coolly alienated young garçons et filles pursuing doomed relationships in a monochrome Paris. Of his later work I’m fairly sure that I’ve seen Prénom Carmen, but I can’t recall much about it.

When it comes to cinematic milieus, I probably lean more towards 70s New York than 60s Paris (while recognising that without the influence of Godard it’s unlikely that Scorsese would have made the films he did) but, that said, I still think that Michel Poiccard makes a infinitely more appealing role model than Travis Bickle, so there’s no doubt that Jean-Luc’s reputation as a genius auteur is fully justified.

Elizabeth Windsor RIP

Well, this has turned out to be quite a week of change for the UK; a new Prime Minister and a new monarch within the space of two days.

Of course the former has become so commonplace recently that it’s hardly worth commenting upon, but the latter is a novel experience for just about the whole population, so it’s difficult to know how the country will react. It’s the sort of thing that feels like a bad omen, especially given the general sense of gloom that has been pervading the nation lately, but on the other hand the immediate response of most of my (admittedly unrepresentative) associates has been to look forward to some extra public holidays, so perhaps the net effect will be to lighten the popular mood somewhat.

Whatever; I expect we’ll have to plod through a week or two of somber music and public lamentation, though hopefully it will be a little more dignified than the mass hysteria that broke out when Mrs Windsor’s ex-daughter-in-law passed away. There might even be a reasoned debate about the future of the monarchy, though that perhaps is too much to hope for…

Recession gloom

So, I’m back from the US, after a pleasantly extended sojourn spent catching up with old friends, revisiting past haunts, and exploring some new ones. Naturally enough a lot had changed since my last visit back in the 90s, but there was enough reassuring familiarity that I was able to properly relax. Apart from some anticipatory anxiety as I stood in line at immigration, I can’t recall a single tense moment. I guess it helps that I’ve slowed down a bit over the last 30 years, and am content to spend a whole morning taking a gentle stroll through a gallery, or sitting outside a cafe watching the world go by, rather than rushing around trying to see every attraction on offer in whatever locale I happen to be passing through. If I did have a minor complaint, it was that the cost of living was much higher than I remembered – $30 for a beer and a burrito! – though I suspect this is mainly because I stayed in nice hotels and ate at classy restaurants, unlike my younger self, who was happy with grubby hostels and cheap burgers. I tip more these days too.

Anyway, back to reality. I had planned to have a bit more downtime before returning to work, but the latest news on the economy has spooked me a bit, and I’m thinking that I should probably get some money coming in sooner rather than later. I might be more relaxed if I had any confidence in the government, but since our nominal Prime Minister has chosen to spend his final days in office sulking rather than running the country, as his would-be successors vie for the hearts and votes of Tory party members by promising ever more outlandish fantasies of low taxes and reactionary social policy, it seems likely that things will get very much worse before they get any better.

Of course any worries I might have are insignificant compared with those facing the 50%+ of the population who are forecast to find themselves in fuel poverty going into the winter. It seems inconceivable that the political pressure generated by such widespread hardship will fail to push whoever ends up in Number 10 into some sort of action to inject some more spending power into the economy, whatever fears they may have about the effect that might have on inflation. Some combination of price controls and a boost to Universal Credit would probably cover it, but that may be too much to hope for, and a limited expansion of the already-announced fuel credits is a more likely outcome.

It remains to be seen whether the Tories, following their instinct for self-preservation, will unite behind their new leader, or if continuing internecine conflict will tempt Truss/Sunak to seek a personal mandate from a General Election. From a democratic viewpoint that would be a welcome development, but I suspect that dealing with a fractious party for a couple of years while hoping the economy picks up will look like the lesser evil when compared to inviting the judgement of the electorate in the midst of a cost of living crisis, so there will be no semi-competent technocratic administration riding over the hill to save us any time soon.

And these are just our local problems – I haven’t even touched on the war in Ukraine, US-China tensions, Middle East instability, climate change… I may need another trip to the calming oceanside sooner than I think.

Los Angeles, July 4th 2022

With my characteristic good timing, I’ve chosen a moment when the US seems to be entering one of its periodic spells of paranoid reaction to pay my first visit to the country in nearly 30 years.

Fortunately I’m in California, visiting some old radical buddies, so I doubt I’ll experience anything too illiberal. If anything, the recent developments seem to have energised the left, around here at least, though I suspect that what I am observing is just one side of the country’s deepening polarisation, rather than a more general progressive shift.

Whatever; my trip is a social one, so I’m going to leave the politics for another day, and focus on catching up on a personal level with some people I haven’t seen for far too long. As you might imagine, my friends are not the most patriotic of citizens, but we’re going to settle back tonight with some beers, and a joint or two, to watch the fireworks, and dream of a better future.

Rowing back progress

Although today’s US Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe vs Wade had been leaked some time ago, the reality of it still came as a shock. Even as economic inequality has deepened in the last decade or so, the left has been able to console itself with the idea that the social gains of the last 50 years or so were more or less secure. It’s harder to believe that now, with the Conservative wing of the Court openly gunning for every progressive gain from voting rights to interracial marriage.

On the other hand, the fact that this decision is so clearly out of step with US public opinion, and has only come about as a result of the flagrantly undemocratic packing of the Court, might be the straw that finally breaks the unfathomable reverence US liberals pay to the Constitution, a document drawn up two centuries ago by white male slaveowners to preserve their dominance over society. If that is too much to hope for, then at least the elections in November might see some blowback against a Republican Party which engineered this assault on the civil liberties of 51.1% of the population.

Platinum indifference

I had a vague memory that I had written a post a decade ago to mark the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee; a quick search through the archive confirmed this, though it was a bit less profound than I remembered. I suspect the deep and insightful piece I was thinking of was actually this one, penned on the day Queen Elizabeth II became our longest serving monarch, though again my recall had perhaps exaggerated its intellectual heft.

I thus feel obligated to post something on the subject of the Platinum Jubilee, but, to be honest, I’ve found the whole thing rather underwhelming. I’m not exactly the target audience for the pageantry of the last few days I guess, but it hasn’t even inflamed my republican passions beyond a mild sense of disapproval. While, on an abstract level, my opposition to the institution of the monarchy remains as strong as ever, the concrete reality is that Elizabeth’s longevity has resulted in her becoming personally identified with the role to such a degree that to criticise it feels like giving an old and infirm woman a needlessly hard time.

So, like most of the population, I’ve spent the weekend enjoying the good weather, and trying to forget about everything else that is going on the world. There will be plenty of time for anti-royal agitation when Charles III is on the throne.

Fifteen Years Ago

Second Life Shrink made its debut on May 26th 2007, an exciting time when technology promised a future of unlimited opportunity. The must-have communication gadget was a BlackBerry, all the cool kids were on MySpace, and it was still possible to dream of making a living by blogging.

A decade and a half later, after nearly 700 posts, we’re still going strong, or still going at least. This would seem like a good opportunity to reflect on how the dream of internet liberation degenerated into the post-truth social-media dystopia that we live in today, but that sounds like hard work, so in true SLS slacker style I’ll just do what I did on our fifth and tenth birthdays, and list my favourite posts from the past 5 years:

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

2022

Perhaps this review will inspire me to post a bit more frequently again; we’ll see. In the meantime I’ll revive a favourite feature that has lain dormant since 2017, the post-title-related music link.

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