There's a catch

I first read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 when I was about 14, and one of the many lines that have stuck with me over the years is Yossarian’s reply to being asked “But what if everyone thought that way?” when he reports his disinclination to be killed for his country; “Then I’d be a damn fool to think any different, wouldn’t I?” (or words to that effect, it’s been a while since I last read it). It could be interpreted as an approval of selfish individualism, but, in the context of the book, I think Heller intends it to serve as a reminder to be sceptical of those in power who urge sacrifice for some “greater good”, which often turns out to benefit only a select few.

Anyway, I was thinking of this earlier this week, as I stood in the supermarket looking at the empty shelves. I had heeded the official advice to refrain from panic-buying, partly from a sense of civic responsibility, but mainly due to laziness, and had held off heading to the store until my supplies had begun to run low, only to find that my fellow-citizens had not shown such forbearance. There was nothing but some random stuff left, so for the last few days I have been surviving on a diet of organic quinoa and tinned asparagus. Fortunately, I’m not responsible for anyone else’s welfare, so it’s no big deal, and my minor discomfort is nothing compared with that of those who are actually ill at the moment, but still, I feel a little aggrieved.

At least in political life there does seem to have been a turn towards more of a collective outlook. Erstwhile champions of the free market are now overseeing the virtual nationalisation of the whole economy; by next week they will probably be trying to convince us of the merits of war communism. It would be nice to think that this new paradigm will last beyond the end of the current crisis, but I expect the ruling class will revert to type once the existential threat to their system has passed, and it will be back to business as usual.

In other news, it looks like Joe Biden is going to be the Democratic nominee for President, after successfully consolidating the centrist vote and seeing off the progressive challenge of Bernie Sanders. I think this is a big gamble for the Democrats; they are going for what is essentially a rematch of 2016, and it didn’t work out too well last time. Of course that’s assuming that the poll goes ahead in November; Trump may try to use the dislocation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to cancel the popular vote. As Hillary Clinton found out, Presidents are not elected by the people, but by the Electoral College, which in turn is appointed by the State Legislatures. In modern times the Legislatures have selected Electors based on the result of the popular vote, but there is nothing in the Constitution to say that they have to do that, leaving the way open for Republican-controlled states (of which there are enough to guarantee a majority in the College) to simply hand re-election to Trump. This would presumably precipitate some sort of civil war, so it might be a step too far even for Trump, who, as incumbent, has a better than even chance of prevailing in a fair contest, but, the way the world is going these days, it’s hard to say that anything is unimaginable.

Super Tuesday 2020

As predicted, the Democratic primary race is resolving into a fight between Bernie Sanders and A. Moderate, though the identity of the centrist champion is still unclear. The withdrawal of Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar should, theoretically at least, benefit Joe Biden, after a good showing in South Carolina seemed to substantiate his claim that he can win support across a broad demographic. Michael Bloomberg is on the ballot for the first time tomorrow though, counting on the billion dollars or so that he has dropped on political advertising being enough to buy him victory. Progressives will be hoping that the result will be a split in the moderate vote, allowing Bernie to cruise to a commanding lead in the delegate count, now that Elizabeth Warren’s momentum looks to be fading.

So, an exciting day in prospect tomorrow. I don’t have a vote, obviously, but I do know a few US citizens, who are all behind Bernie, so I’ll make sure they turn out for the Democrats Abroad primary. I’m sticking to my position that a left-focused campaign is the best way to defeat Trump; we’ll soon find out if the good people of American Samoa, Vermont, and points in between agree with me.

Trump Rex

I went to see Parasite this week, and, fair play to the Academy, it is a better film than Little Women. I still think Saoirse Ronan should have won Best Actress though.

In other class-struggle-related news, it looks like Donald Trump is determined to live up to accusations that he is a fascist, by openly comparing himself to a king, and loudly proclaiming his belief that he has the right to use the supposedly independent Justice Department to persecute his political enemies. This latter boast has prompted much hand-wringing among liberals, who seem to have forgotten that selective prosecution on ideological grounds has a long history in the US – just ask the Black Panthers.

Now that Trump has upped the stakes by going after people who would consider themselves part of the establishment, it’s likely that there will be some sort of institutional response that he will be able to characterise as a deep-state backlash, of the kind existing in the fevered imaginations of Q-Anon enthusiasts, thus furthering his narrative that he is on the side of the ordinary man in the battle with unaccountable elites, and boosting his chances of re-election.

Tempting though it is in these circumstances to cheer on whatever elements of the government machine Trump is taking aim at, that would be a bad mistake – the FBI are not our friends. Getting involved in the internal squabbles of the ruling class can only be a distraction; we need to remember that all of them are our enemies, and concentrate on building a movement that can sweep aside the whole rotten system, liberating us from the leech of capitalism once and for all.

New Hampshire 2020

The last time we had a post title referencing the Granite State was back in 2012, when we surveyed the Republican primary field, and mocked the inadequacy of the candidates they were putting up to challenge an impregnable incumbent. How times change.

Anyway, the results from New Hampshire this time around confirm that the Democratic primary race is shaping up as a contest between leftists and centrists, though who will emerge as the champion of each faction is still uncertain. Bernie Sanders is making the running on the progressive wing, but Elizabeth Warren can’t be written off, despite her poor performance so far. Joe Biden is at risk of being eclipsed by Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, but may bounce back in more diverse states. Throw in the wildcard of Michael Bloomberg’s candidacy, and it’s clear there are more twists to come before this is settled.

On the bigger question of whether consolidating the base by going left is a better plan than trying to appeal to swing voters in the centre, progressives can cite the example of Hillary Clinton, who failed badly with the latter strategy last time around. However moderates might point out that Clinton actually won the popular vote, and that racking up big majorities in Democratic strongholds doesn’t always help when it comes to the all-important Electoral College. Both sides might be looking at the result of the UK election, where, at first glance, it seems like turning left was a disastrous choice for Labour, but it’s not certain that the lessons of that race are directly applicable to the very different political terrain of the US.

Of course the biggest unknown in the whole process, like it was in 2016, is Donald Trump. He is in office, which is usually a massive advantage for any candidate, so if he just avoids any major scandal between now and November he should be home and dry. The final result may turn on whether he has the insight to recognise this, and the self-discipline to stay on-message, both of which are very questionable propositions.

So, the primaries, and the general election, look sure to be even more of an unpredictable roller-coaster than they were four years ago. That said, I do feel obliged to follow our tradition of making an early forecast of the eventual outcome, so here it is: President Sanders.

Iowa, finally

After two days of confusion, the Iowa caucus results have just about trickled in. If the disorganisation of the local Democrats is any reflection of the preparedness of the national party then we may be in for a very rough time once the general election comes around, but it’s not all gloomy news; Bernie Sanders seems to have maintained the momentum he built up four years ago, while Joe Biden’s campaign looks to be running into trouble already. This is encouraging, because, in a highly polarised political contest, maximising the turnout of your base is a better strategy than trying to chip away at the weaker elements of your opponent’s support, and Sanders’ promises of social reform are likely to generate more excitement among core Democrat constituencies than Biden’s lukewarm centrism. Of course there is the risk that even a moderate (by European standards) leftist like Sanders will have an equally strong rallying effect on the Republican right, but, as things stand, it’s difficult to see what other course of action could lead to a Democrat victory in November.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, the Trump impeachment process ended in the entirely predictable anti-climax of aquittal. Trump has been crowing about his “victory”, but again, it remains to be seen whether, come polling day, the encouragement this gives to his followers will be outweighed by the motivation it provides to those who want to see the back of him.

Last exit to Blighty

So, today was my final day as a citizen of the European Union. On a practical level, this is a bit of a non-event for me; the UK’s departure will not have any huge consequences in the short term, since there is now a one-year transition period where everything stays much the same, and even in the longer term I’m not likely to personally suffer any significant detriment, because I’m an old, middle-class, white male, and we generally do OK, whatever the circumstances.

Still, I’m feeling rather bereft. The EU, for all its many faults, represents an optimistic vision of an internationalist future, born from the ashes of a terrible war. That we are now retreating behind a national frontier, trying to regain a mythical past, seems like an ominous development.

Then again, it probably won’t work out as badly as I fear. The social gains of the last seven decades are not just going to disappear, however much the right try to turn the clock back, and in years to come we might look back on this episode as a minor bump in the highway of human progress, the last stand of reaction against the tide of history.

Anyway, whatever it says on my passport, nothing can change how I define myself; I’m a proud member of the worldwide proletariat, and I will be until I die.

Trump and tribulation

As expected, after the excitement of the election, politics around here has pretty much gone into hibernation, and is unlikely to become interesting again until efforts to negotiate an EU trade deal get started next month, when we’ll find out whether Boris Johnson actually has some sort of plan, or if we’re going to be back into another period of no-deal brinkmanship.

In the meantime we must turn for amusement to the US, where the Senate trial of Donald Trump for a small sample of his many high crimes and misdemeanors is finally getting under way. While the short-term outcome may not be in much doubt, since most Republican Senators have already declared themselves ready to acquit without burdening their minds with consideration of the evidence, it will be interesting to see what effect the demonstration of Trump’s rampant criminality has on his public standing, and his chances of re-election.

I suspect that the answer to that question will be “not much”. People already know what they think about Trump, and confirmation that he is a crook seems unlikely to make much impression on his core support. If he can sit back and let it wash over him, the process might even work to his advantage, by fuelling the narrative that he is the victim of the liberal elite, persecuted for the “crime” of standing up for the little guy.

The main danger that Trump faces is from himself; it’s possible that he will allow the impeachment to goad him into some action so outrageous that it tests the loyalty of even his most ardent supporters. It’s hard to imagine what would be bad enough to do that though; perhaps cancelling the election and declaring himself dictator-for-life. Failing that, this trial may turn out to be just a minor inconvenience on his march to another term in office.

 

2020 vision

[I guess it bodes ill for my serious writing career that I have been unable to resist such a painfully obvious title for today’s post, but I was up late last night, so I think I can be excused.]

What lies ahead for SLS as we enter the new decade? I expect that we will feel compelled to continue commenting on the unfolding political situation, on both sides of the Atlantic. My prediction is that the Brexit question will actually calm down a bit now that Boris Johnson has a solid majority and, no longer beholden to the ultras in his own party, is able to negotiate a sensible trade deal with the EU. Things are likely to get more lively in the US though, since the long-awaited impeachment process has significantly raised the already-high stakes in the 2020 presidential election. Donald Trump will be going to jail if he loses, giving him the motivation to abandon the scant regard he has for constitutional niceties, assuming he allows the election to go ahead at all.

Away from politics, I would like to start posting longer, more considered, pieces on broader cultural topics, perhaps once a month or so, but that’s an ambition I’ve had for several years now and it’s never happened yet, so we’ll see.

And Second Life? I did renew my annual subscription back in October, which cost about $90, even though the only way I have of accessing the grid these days is via an old copy of the now-defunct Lumiya app on an elderly tablet, which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t produce a particularly satisfactory graphical experience. Theoretically that shouldn’t matter too much if I just wanted to interact with people, but the perennial SL underpopulation means that one has to wander around for ages before bumping into anyone, and it’s difficult to stay interested without something pretty to look at. I should try to get back into virtual living again, because I’m sure SL will just disappear one day, and I’ll miss it when it’s gone. It might be quite interesting to compare my thoughts about it now with my first impressions from back in 2007.

So, politics, culture, Second Life, that should keep me busy for the next twelve months. I may even find time to cover our other main neglected category, psychology. I could do something tomorrow on avoiding procrastination….

State of disappointment

It’s the evening after the morning after the night before, and I have to say I’m still feeling pretty bummed out. I’ve purposefully avoided reading any news today, because I know it would just have depressed the fuck out of me even more; instead I spent most of the day in bed, and the rest watching movies.

I guess I’ll pick myself up in time, and get back to the struggle, but for now I just need a bit of space away from reality . If only there was some sort of virtual world I could lose myself in…

Long dark night

It’s that point in the evening where the exit polls and early results are in, and the crushing wave of depression is just about being held at bay by the increasingly forlorn hope that it might not turn out as badly as it it’s looking at the moment.

In my younger days I used to stay up until the early hours on an election night, but I don’t have the stamina for that now. Of course back then I was often actually at the count, which was much more fun than sitting at home alone, following the outcome on a laptop. I’ll probably stick it out for another hour or so, but finding something to feel good about amongst the gloom will have to wait for the morning.