The Grenfell Tower disaster

In a story that would be dismissed as ridiculously melodramatic if it appeared in a work of agitational fiction, it turns out that hundreds of working-class tenants in London’s richest borough have been burned to death in horrific circumstances because someone chose to skimp on fire-resistant cladding for their homes, to save the grand total of £5000. That the block was converted into a death trap in order to improve the view of the wealthy residents of neighbouring mansions adds insult to the considerable injury, as does the response of the council and the government, who have largely left the bereaved and homeless to fend for themselves.

Coming on the back of the recent electoral resurgence of the left, some are predicting that a tragedy like this, which so starkly illustrates the descent of our once proud nation into an uncaring kleptocracy, might be the trigger for real social change. I’m hoping for that too, but I have enough experience to know that the system has weathered many such storms before, and will probably get through this one too.

Whether our Prime Minister will be in office for long is another question, though, paradoxically, she may be more secure now than she was a week ago, as no one else in the Conservative party seems particularly keen to take charge in the current state of chaos, particularly as another election is the last thing that they want. I expect the administration will limp on ineffectually, though what this will mean for domestic and foreign policy is unclear to say the least. Will they try to win back the centre with relaxed austerity and a softer Brexit? Or double down on the hard-right ideology? I suspect the former, though really the only prediction one can make with any certainty these days is that things will remain unpredictable.

Jez he could

Well, evidently political surprises can come from the left as well as the right. To the shock and consternation of just about all mainstream commentators, Jeremy Corbyn managed to not only forestall the widely-predicted Conservative landslide, but to increase the Labour vote to a level not seen in a generation, and come tantalisingly close to overall victory.

Close, but not quite there. As I write, Theresa May is still clinging to power, scrabbling around for support in the wilder fringes of UK politics, though it does seem likely that she will become the second Tory premier in less than a year to depart after an ill-judged consultation of the population.

In theory May’s downfall should trigger another election, which one would imagine that Labour would win, but making any sort of political prediction is a mugs’ game these days, so I guess that I, along with the rest of the nation, will just have to wait to see what develops over the next week or so. Things are looking more promising than they have done for some time though.

State of dismay

So here we are on the eve of the election, and I have yet to come up with a prediction of the outcome. This is partly due to my recent woeful record in such endeavour – I couldn’t have been much more wrong on TrumpBrexit or the last general election – but I’ve also been wary of getting too caught up in the enthusiasm around the Corbyn campaign, because at my age I can’t really stand any more disappointment.

That said, I do think it’s safe to conclude that left-wing politics have been given a bit of a boost, whether or not that is reflected in the final numbers. What the campaign has clarified is the ideological divide between the main parties, and even if the Tories do get their landslide (as the latest polls suggest), Corbyn has done well enough to consolidate his hold on the Labour party leadership, which will provide a base to build on in the years ahead.

I do need a forecast though, so I’ll go with my heart; Labour minority government. I have to be right one of these times…

Ten Years After

Rather remarkably, today is the 10th anniversary of the very first post on this blog, and, while I started out full of enthusiasm, I don’t think I would have predicted that I’d still be churning them out a decade later.

It’s not been a steady stream of course – when I did a retrospective on the occasion of our 5th birthday back in 2012 I had a lot of material to work with; the pickings this time around are somewhat slimmer. There have been a few highlights though; here are my favourites:

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

So there you have it, 16 worthwhile pieces in 5 years. Is that a good enough return to justify keeping this blog going? On balance, I think so, though I guess we can revisit the question in 2022. In the meantime I’ll revive one of our traditions, which had sadly fallen into abeyance, the contrived musical link.

À droit

What with the local election results confirming that the country is swinging further to the right (even round here), no doubt presaging a Tory landslide next month, I’ve been thinking that I should just give up on Anglo-Saxon/Celtic politics, and turn to our enlightened neighbours on the continent for some relief.

Let’s see, what’s happening in France?

Fuck…

Unexpected excitement

Regular readers will have noticed that we’ve settled into a fairly regular one-post-per-month rhythm here at SLS, as I try to cling to the illusion that I am still an active blogger, despite all the evidence to the contrary. I was all set to make April’s post on our traditional 4/20 theme – probably something about the good news from Canada – but I’ve been jolted into action a couple of days early by the somewhat surprising news that we are to have a General Election in June, three years ahead of schedule.

Theresa May’s reasoning – go to the country now, before the full disastrous reality of Brexit becomes apparent, and while the opposition are a shambles – may be transparently cynical, but it is undeniably smart, since it is very difficult to imagine any outcome other than a solid Tory majority, which would give her the personal mandate she needs to take the country even further to the right.

So I’m not exactly optimistic right now, but I’m not hopeless either. Labour may be well behind in the national polls, but the support they have is geographically concentrated, and their recent turn to the left has brought in a new and energised layer of supporters, so there is a chance that they might manage to hang on to more of their seats than expected. The SNP are likely to sweep the board again in Scotland, which will deliver another block of anti-conservative MPs, not to mention unstoppable momentum for another Independence referendum.

Interesting times ahead for sure…

Indefinite article

So the government has finally triggered Article 50, setting the nation on the road out of the European Union. While there is no doubt that this is a deeply regrettable development, a major victory for the anti-progressive forces which have grown stronger in this country over the last few years, I’m actually feeling less anxious about the practical effects of Brexit than I was in the immediate aftermath of the vote.

Political opinion within the Conservative Party does seem to be shifting towards a realisation that granting the wishes of the more deluded members of the Leave camp for an uncompromisingly brutal departure will be economically disastrous, so I suspect that, despite her hardline rhetoric, Theresa May will end up negotiating a deal that leaves us with EU-lite; a single market and more or less free movement. She will be able to point to some reduction in regulation as supposed fruits of victory from the process, though whether this will be enough for the xenophobes who thought that Brexit meant an end to all immigration will remain to be seen.

What is certain is that the whole thing is very complicated; the two-year limit for reaching a deal seems extremely optimistic. There is time for a lot to change in domestic politics; it’s not unimaginable that the demand for a second referendum to approve any proposed agreement will become irresistible, giving the country a chance to come to its senses. Failing that there is always the potential escape capsule of Scottish independence, for those of us north of the border at least. I’m not ready to give up my European identity just yet…

International Women’s Day 2017

One hundred years ago today, a march in Petrograd to mark International Women’s Day set in train a series of events that culminated in the October Revolution, the best thing that has ever happened in the history of the world.

It’s heartening to see that today’s women still have the fighting spirit shown by their sisters all those years ago; they might yet save the world from the mess we men have made of it.

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.