Eve of destruction

In an hour or so Donald Trump will be sworn in as President, and, if one believes what one reads in the liberal press, the End Times will begin. Personally, I’ve been alternating between optimistically hoping that, once in power, Trump will dial down the crazy a few notches, and gloomily recalling that people expected the same thing from Hitler back in the 30s.

We’ll just have to wait and see I guess. Trump’s capacity for mayhem will be limited to some extent by his compromised legitimacy, the substantial opposition that exists within the country, and the fact that a massive bureaucracy like the US government is well able to resist the whims of the executive, but I’ve no doubt that life is about to get substantially more difficult for a large section of the US population.

At least Trump’s reign will be limited to four years at most; here in the UK our flirtation with insane populism has landed us on the path of no return out of Europe, which will cripple the country for generations. Our only hope is that this disaster will kindle some sort of revolution, but, the state of the left being what it is, that doesn’t look very likely.

Oh well, we’ve been here before and lived through it. Something will turn up

2016: The Year in Review – Politics, Culture, Blogging

I’m going to compress my review of the past 12 months into one post this year, partly because, in common with everyone else, I’ve been, like, fuck 2016, and want to spend as little time thinking about it as possible, but mainly because my blogging activity has been pretty sparse of late, so there’s not very much to review.

Politics first; if I had any suspicion that I was old, and out of touch, then my fears were more than confirmed by the way I was blindsided by the two big political developments of the year, Brexit and Trump. To be honest I’m still pretty much in denial over both of them; I feel sure that the Founding Fathers must have written something into the Constitution to head off the kind of clusterfuck promised by a manifestly unfit President, and I can’t believe that the Tories, who have always looked after the interests of the national bourgeoisie, will follow through with the economic suicide of leaving the single market. Then again I guess it’s such naivety that stopped me seeing these disasters coming in the first place; that, and my effective retirement from active politics in the last couple of years. Anyway, I think I’ll refrain from making any more political predictions until a bit of time has passed and I’ve got at least some of my bearings back.

Culture is a bit more straightforward; my taste in music, literature and film (as recorded in our Tumblr) is more or less the same as ever, so my favourites are fairly predictable.

Top ten albums, in no particular order:

  • New View – Eleanor Friedberger
  • Welcome the Worms – Bleached
  • Human Performance – Parquet Courts
  • Crab Day – Cate Le Bon
  • Desire’s Magic Theatre – Purson
  • Empire Builder – Laura Gibson
  • Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not – Dinosaur Jr.
  • My Woman – Angel Olsen
  • Undercurrent – Sarah Jarosz
  • Let It Be You – Joan As Police Woman & Benjamin Lazar Davis

Plus lots of other good stuff; if I had to choose one it would probably be Empire Builder.

Favourite books – back in January I read a lot about time, relativity and cosmology, which was a bit of a downer, confirming as it did my view that human existence is insignificant and essentially random, so for the rest of the year I stuck to the comforts of fiction. I managed another volume of Proust, Cities of the Plain, leaving me on course to finish the set before the end of the decade, and a fair mix of other books, old and new, the most enjoyable probably Purity, by Jonathan Franzen, and David Means’ Hystopia.

Top films – I only visited an actual cinema once this year, to see The Force Awakens, which was distinctly underwhelming, even in 3D. I have acquired some of the year’s other releases on DVD, though the only one I’ve got round to watching is Hail, Caesar!, so I guess it gets my vote for film of the year. I will try to see High Rise and The Neon Demon before too long.

And so on to blogging. I actually managed to post a bit more this year than last, but traffic is down more than half, and we’re pulling in barely 10% of the hits we used to get in the glory days of 2010. This is partly due (I tell myself) to the general decline of blogging as a medium, but I have to admit that lacklustre content hasn’t helped. As I’ve already noted my political analysis was practically worthless; apart from briefly mentioning the passing of Bowie and Prince, I didn’t really touch upon any cultural issues; and, most embarrassingly, there was a complete absence of anything even vaguely resembling psychological insight into virtual life, which is supposed to be the whole point of this blog. The only post from 2016 that I would highlight is this one about the Chicago Cubs, which does show a little of our characteristic whimsical nostalgia, but overall it was far from a vintage year.

Anyway, for the record, here are our ten most popular posts of the year, all, unsurprisingly, from the archive:

  1. Second Life demographics – a brief review
  2. Free Pussy Riot!
  3. On Second Life and addiction
  4. Watching the Okhrana
  5. Fly me to the moon
  6. Ferrisburg, Vermont
  7. What’s up
  8. Bastille Day 1989
  9. No man is an island
  10. There is no land beyond the Volga

Our geographical reach has contracted a bit recently, but we still had hits from 63 different countries this year; here are the top ten:

  1. United States
  2. Brazil
  3. United Kingdom
  4. France
  5. Germany
  6. Italy
  7. Canada
  8. Australia
  9. India
  10. Spain

So that was 2016. I was going to preview next year too, but I’m running out of enthusiasm, so I’ll leave it for another day. In the meantime, I’ll wish a happy and prosperous New Year to all our readers.

Hasta la victoria siempre

I was initially a bit depressed to hear that Fidel Castro had passed away; then I remembered that, despite everything that the US had thrown at him since the 1950s, he had died in his bed, at the age of 90, with the legacy of the Cuban revolution more or less intact, which, all things considered, isn’t a bad result.

Seriously?

America – WTF dudes?

One more message to my friends in the US of A

I’m not usually one for superstition, but this worked in 2008 and 2012, so why take a chance?


[Thanks again to Matt Groening.]

I Wanna Be Sedated

There are about 24 hours to go until the less-than-edifying US Presidential campaign draws to a close, and the long-suffering voters finally get a chance to have their say. The national polls, tracking polls, swing-state polls, early voting indications and pundits all seem to agree that Hillary will win fairly comfortably, albeit not with the landslide that looked likely a couple of weeks ago, but I don’t think I, or the rest of the world, will really be able to relax until the final count is in, and even then the trouble may only be starting.

It seems unlikely that Trump will go quietly, but I think fears of widespread unrest are probably overstated. I wrote a couple of weeks ago that what Trump needed was a redemption narrative; he has, of course, been unable to grasp that opportunity, but the story can still work for the nation as a whole. Having flirted with, but ultimately rejected, the spectre of fascism, the US will be able to congratulate itself on still being that shining city upon a hill, the country that we atavistic Europeans can only wish we were, and carry on down the road of American exceptionalism.

It’s not all gloomy though; it looks like marijuana-legalisation measures around the country will pass, as the stoner vote, motivated by anti-Trump animus, turns out in greater than usual numbers. It certainly won’t hurt to have some extra calming influence around…

Change don’t come easy

The third and final Presidential debate turned out to be a bit anticlimactic. Donald Trump actually performed relatively well, by his own low standards, managing to more or less focus on the issues, before blowing it at the end with his self-defeating reluctance to say he would accept the verdict of the very voters he was supposed to be trying to win over. Hillary Clinton, who, as all observers have noted, might well be struggling against a semi-competent opponent, once again had little to do but avoid disaster, which she managed with the ease one might expect from such a veteran operator.

The papers today have been full of hand-wringing about Trump undermining the traditions of US democracy, which I think is all rather overblown, especially now that he has started to walk back his “No Surrender” position. Hillary will win next month, and an exhausted electorate will move on. The GOP will regroup, and it will be business as usual by the end of the year, in Washington at least. There may be some grumbling from the disaffected elements that Trump has riled up, but they don’t constitute anything like an organised movement, so it’s unlikely to come to anything.

The best chance of real change probably lies in the remnants of the Sanders campaign, but that will be a long-term project. Hillary may progress some mild reform, but, whatever the right say, she’s no revolutionary. For the left, once the distraction of the quadrennial election has passed, it will, as ever, be back to the unglamorous grind of everyday activism, the sort of thing that actually gets things done.

Trumpocalypse now

Well, as I forecast, the Trump campaign has gone into meltdown, though I hesitate to claim too much credit for a feat of prognostication on a par with predicting that the sun will come up in the morning.

The election may be all over bar the shouting, but it does look there is going to be a lot of that before polling day rolls around, now that Trump has gone into full-on Nazi mode, railing against the vast conspiracy ranged against him, all orchestrated by shadowy “global financial powers” (hint: he means the Jews).

Trump’s strategy to consolidate the angry white male vote is not completely insane; as Nat Silver has shown, if it was up to the guys he would be a shoo-in. Fortunately, the 19th Amendement is a thing (however much the alt-right wishes it wasn’t), and the rest of the world can breathe easy knowing that the distaff side of the US electorate will keep us safe from disaster.

St Louis massacre

In news which has shocked – shocked! – the Republican hierarchy, it turns out that Donald Trump is an entitled, misogynistic asshole. Who knew? Despite Trump’s attempts to brush off the whole affair as the youthful indiscretion of 58-year old, it looks like this might be the point at which the wheels finally come off his increasingly unstable bandwagon.

If we were talking about anyone else but Trump, I’d say there was slim chance that the situation could be turned to advantage; Americans love a redemption narrative, and a display of humility and contrition at tonight’s debate might just be enough to persuade wavering conservatives to suppress their misgivings about Trump in the cause of keeping Clinton out of the White House. I’ve no doubt those of his advisors who haven’t yet jumped ship are begging him to follow that strategy, but I’m equally sure that he’ll ignore them and stick with the aggressive counterattacks that seem to be the only response he has to any adversity.

So we can expect an entertaining, if unedifying, spectacle in St Louis tonight; Trump becoming increasingly unhinged and incoherent, as Clinton stands back and looks presidential. If the GOP haven’t dumped him by this time tomorrow they might be looking at a defeat of historic proportions come November.

Undebatable

The dust has settled after the opening Presidential debate, and the consensus among the pundits seems to be that, in the battle between the know-all and the Know-Nothing, Hillary came out clearly on top.

The Clinton camp’s tactics were spot on; burnish their candidate’s credentials as a competent, if slightly dull, technocrat, while gently goading Trump into damning himself in the eyes of undecided voters (particularly women) by exploiting his almost Pavlovian inability to resist responding to criticism, or even contradiction, with bigoted invective.

Trump, meanwhile, appears to be calculating that the demographic he already has locked down – angry white guys essentially – will be enough to carry him over the winning line. That’s optimistic; even if he can motivate his base to turn out in big numbers, the list of groups he has insulted, belittled, threatened, or otherwise pissed-off is extensive, and they’ll be queuing up to vote against him.

I’ve no doubt that there will be more twists in this story between now and November, but I’m sticking to my prediction; Hillary will win.