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Posts Tagged ‘EU’

Missing, Inaction

July 11, 2019 27 comments

Did you miss me, while I was away? Did you hang my picture on your wall? No, hold on, I shouldn’t be quoting him, should I! But he did make some undeniably great pop songs, before his downfall and disgrace. So, let’s start again. Had you noticed that I had been AWOL from my blog again? You could be forgiven for that: I’m not exactly the most regular or reliable of bloggers, am I? And as this hiatus was, by my standards, relatively brief, it probably wouldn’t have registered very high on the Richter scale for blogquakes, if such a thing exists. Come to think of it, very few of my posts would be likely to raise Prof Richter from his usual UK torpor anyway. But, if you cast your eyes to the right, you will see that this post is all of 18 days since my last one. Why?

I hadn’t planned on taking a break, although I have alluded in some recent posts to the fact that a lot of real life was happening around me. That in itself wouldn’t have caused the gap – but we should always be wary of gaps, as any traveller on the London Underground will know. The major real life issue was not, for once, my health, though it didn’t have a positive effect on me health-wise. It was that I had to move home. I know that all over the world this is an everyday occurrence but I am used to stability, and this was a decidedly destabilising experience! I had been in the same home for the past eleven and a half years, since my divorce, and this was only my second move of home since 1982: I am a creature of regular habits! But, since the aforementioned divorce I have been living in a flat rented from a private owner. The owners’ circumstances required them to raise the cash from selling the property, so yours truly had to go. The whole experience was incredibly stressful for me, and I’m intending to write a post about that at some point, when I feel up to it: moving home is, after all, recognised as one of the leading causes of stress. But I’ll save that for another day – it requires more care, sensitivity and thought than I can muster at present. The point of this piece – yes, I’m finally getting to it – is a reflection on how dependent we have become on something which we know is there, even though we can’t see it. But, as Joni Mitchell said, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.’ I’m referring, of course, to that modern day wonder known as the internet.

Do you ever stop to think about how much we depend on it? If not, try going without it for a whole 15 days, like I have just done. I knew there would be a few days without it after the move, but wasn’t prepared for an additional delay while British Telecom (aka BT) struggled to work out why the link from the box on the wall in my new flat failed to register any kind of score on their readings – think of it as a telecoms version of ‘Royaume Uni – nul points’ at the Eurovision Song Contest, a phrase with which we Brits were already familiar for many years before the vote for Brexit, since when even fewer countries have deigned to bestow any points on our pathetic entries to the competition. Apparently, leaving the EU doesn’t automatically mean that we leave the song contest too, as anyone old enough (i.e. me) to remember us being in it before EU membership can tell you. I wonder if anyone has done a study of the correlation between the two? I wouldn’t mind betting that the song contest is a popular entertainment choice for pro-Brexiteers: after all, if you’re a moron about one thing it’s likely that you will be equally moronic about others, and the chances are that some would have been sufficiently stupid to think that’s what they were voting for. But I digress, sorry. BT have finally solved the problem, after much testing, digging up the road and playing with cables, etc and I’m now back in the land of the living. Huzzah!

The interweb, then. It was in 1997 that we first got connected to it at home, and around the same time at work. Back then it was a novelty, but in the 20+ years since then it has become an absolutely vital part of our lives, both for work and personal use. I haven’t been completely cut off: I have still had the use of my mobile and data, but that is expensive and the screen is too small for much – it’s good for WhatsApp, texts  and checking emails, but far too expensive for any more intensive use. To avoid any language barriers I should point out, for the benefit of those who insist on using the term, that by ‘mobile’ I’m referring to what you call a ‘cell phone.’ To us, that is something a prisoner would have, but each to their own language, I guess. The ubiquity of the web as part of our lives was brought home to me by my older daughter, who asked if I could get something like a Chromecast while I was waiting for my satellite tv to be reconnected. This is a very intelligent young woman with a PhD, who is a Senior Lecturer at one of the UK’s better universities. With, I thought, remarkable nonchalance and absolutely no sarcasm, I replied that I already have an Apple TV, but it (and a Chromecast) kind of relied on the internet. The reply was along the lines of ‘🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️😂😂😂’ but that makes my point, doesn’t it: we are so used to having the web that we forget how much we use it for. Try doing any of these on a small screen when you’re trying not to go into the next band for another squillion quid of mobile data charges:

Blogging, of course, to begin with – it’s just no fun trying to read and comment on blogs on a mobile, here in my cell, and I’ve rather let things slip. Sorry, I’m sure your posts were all great but I might not catch up with you all! I wrote this piece on my (unconnected) iPad during my enforced absence, and have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to unleash it upon you. Well, a little, anyway.

Doing general ‘business-y things’ is another thing which is made convenient by the internet. I had forgotten just how many places I had shared my address with, and almost every postal delivery brings a reminder of another. But it is but a matter of moments to update my address for them all, and I shudder to think how many letters and phone calls this would have taken back in olden times. I prioritised a few which I thought were essential – like not getting the power cut off, for example – and one of these was my TV licence. Don’t ask me why, I just did, even though I wasn’t able to watch tv. I was glad I did, though, as it seems the previous occupant of my flat didn’t have a licence so my address is now on the hit list for the enforcement people. These faceless bureaucrats work on the assumption that everyone watches tv, and that no one is so primitive as not to. Therefore we must prove that we don’t need a licence if that is the case. Police state, anyone?

Shopping – this just isn’t much fun with an app on a mobile. I managed a full grocery shop, but wouldn’t want to keep doing it that way. I have relied on internet shopping for just about everything in recent years and using only a mobile it was almost impossible to browse for the essentials I need for my new home – I really do need a new washing up bowl! I did spend some of my precious data on looking at getting a dongle for my laptop, to create an impression of broadband, but decided that I would rather not buy a bit of kit which might be inviting the Chinese government into my home to spy on me. I’ll keep my internet browsing habits to myself, if it’s all the same to you. Or them.

News – I’ve mostly been without tv for this period, too, and have come to realise how dependent I am for my daily news fix on the Guardian and Apple News apps. I’ve used radio news but somehow it isn’t the same without pictures: if someone is throwing a milkshake over a fascist I want to see it! But I did eventually realise that my portable tv did actually work with an indoor aerial, even if the main one didn’t, so I’ve at least been able to watch a bit of Wimbledon.

Sports news is the same. I enjoy a full subscription to tv sports services and make much use of them, although I do draw the line at watching those imported efforts like handegg and rounders. The cricket World Cup has been taking place and it has been purgatory for me not to be able to watch. Is it bad that I’ve been wasting my mobile data on apps that update me? I think not, but I’ve been very sparing with my use. Life just hasn’t been the same!

Music – I’ve had to actually play CDs rather than stream my music! I know, it’s shocking, isn’t it? I have a vast collection of CDs and have been reacquainting myself with them. I really should have a massive clear out, though: there are few which aren’t available on Apple Music and it is so easy to use that service. I’ve missed YouTube too – who’d have thought that people like me would spend so much time watching music videos?

Catch up tv – you can’t download without the web, or use the mobile service to watch programmes currently being broadcast. I’ve always used these as back up services, and I’ve missed them. As soon as my Sky connection is reinstalled I’ll be doing a lot of downloading: the newest series of NCIS New Orleans awaits!

Games – I don’t classify myself as a serious gamer, though I’ll admit to being intrigued to see what Apple will be offering with its new service in the autumn (aka fall, if you must!). What I mean is the sort of games you can play on an iPad. Did you ever stop to think how many of these required an internet connection? No, nor did I – until this past fortnight. Whilst much of this is for those dreadful adverts that permit you a free go, some games just don’t work properly without being connected. Now that is something I wouldn’t have imagined moaning about 20 odd years ago when the web entered my life!

Reference and knowledge: not the kind that you can get just as easily from a book – remember them, dictionaries and encyclopaedias? – but the ability to do important stuff like checking IMDb to work out where I’ve previously seen the actor I’m watching now. As I was limited to watching DVDs that wasn’t such a big deal, but I still missed it. 

Above all, and underpinning everything else, is the feeling of not being connected. It is very easy to become isolated if you rely on web based services: I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve missed Farcebook and, to a lesser extent, Twitter and Instagram. Some of my friends think I probably don’t care about them any more! I’ve dropped in on a couple of occasions but they were very brief stops. I’m now gradually reacquainting myself with what is going on, and hopefully it won’t take me too long to catch up!

Yes, I’ve been able to read books and magazines on my iPad during the hiatus, but only those which I had previously downloaded. There is nothing like the frustration of making a choice from my Kindle library only to realise ‘bugger, that one is still in the cloud!’ It’s just so good to feel normal again, as much as I ever do. Expect more from me now that I can see you again across the ether, as I emerge from my cocoon.

For anyone who has struggled to read this piece with the guilt from being reminded of the classic piece of pop ear worm with which I began, I can only apologise. I should, however, like to conclude by pointing out that, as a matter of fact, I’m back! By way of apology, I offer you the other song to which I referred:

See you soon, if I ever escape from my binge watching, listening, reconnecting and reading catch ups!

It’s STILL A Hard Life

May 5, 2018 12 comments

Two years ago today I posted a piece which laid out my fears for the way our world was going. This specifically referenced the campaign which was then in full flow towards the UK referendum on membership of the European Union (EU), which took place on 23 June 2016, and the US presidential campaigning, which at that point looked very likely to endorse Donald Trump as the Republican candidate, as indeed happened. Thankfully, election campaigns here only last a month or so, unlike the many months the Americans have to endure – but there’s no guarantee that either of us will come out with a good result, regardless of how long it takes us to get there.

Reading this post again, I was struck by how my worst fears were now coming true. Our referendum became a mass vote of lemmings throwing the country off a cliff, and with only ten months or so until we are due to leave the EU we are nowhere near a conclusion to negotiations or to any coherent vision of the future direction our country will take. Our government has veered ever further to the right, going for what it calls a ‘Hard Brexit’ – in other words, a total split from the EU – with no apparent thought about what the outcomes of this will be. Racists have been empowered by the referendum result and xenophobia is the norm for many. And as for the election of Trump, with all that has brought about, I could go on at length! Here is the post, exactly as I wrote it at the time. I’ll return at the end for a final comment, or several:

“Some weeks ago, when I posted in response to the terrorist bombings in Brussels, I titled my piece after what I had always known, until then, as a Nanci Griffith song, although it was actually written by Julie Gold  – From A Distance. I had been listening to music as I often do, as a lot of truth is spoken in song lyrics and the words of that song resonated with me. One of her own songs also came to mind, and it was a bit of a toss up which one I used to illustrate my post. I chose that one as it made my point for me, and the other song has a wider meaning which I thought I might revisit as a companion piece. Having been kept away from here by illness it has taken me longer than I intended to do this, but this is the other song I had in mind:

Nanci Griffith was born four months before me so, although we have grown up in different countries we have to a degree shared our experience of the world and all its changes. In the song she references growing up in the 60s which, when we look back now, was a tumultuous decade, which in many ways has shaped our lives now: the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of JFK, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Cold War in Europe, student demonstrations, and the massive changes in popular culture. But what have we we learned from all of this? The song’s chorus goes:

‘It’s a hard life, it’s a hard life, it’s a very hard life,

It’s a hard life wherever you go,

But if we poison our children with hatred

then a hard life is all that they’ll know.’

Look around you. What does the news tell us? Have we learnt the lessons of recent history? That song was released in the late 80s, but more than 25 years later it seems to me that we continue to poison our children with hatred. The obvious example of this is Donald Trump, who now looks very likely to be the Republican candidate in the forthcoming US Presidential election. Despite his recent appointment of some spin doctors it is difficult to forget some of the rhetoric he has used during his campaign, and the way that it has demonstrated a position built on racism, bigotry and hatred. As I have said several times before, I fear for the world if he should become President, and hope that doesn’t happen.

But the issue I want to draw to your attention is far greater than just one man, however odious he may be. Next month, we in the UK will be voting in a referendum to decide whether we remain a member of the European Union. In recent years the main (only) political party of any note to espouse this cause has been the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which, by the actions of its members and its beer swilling, chain smoking leader, has largely come across as a bunch of racist buffoons. But here we are, in the midst of a campaign which seems to become nastier by the day, and in which much of the language used seems to be based on bigotry and hatred, of Little Englander perspectives. And we have always had our far right parties, going back to Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts in the 1930s, via the National Front and British National Party in  more recent times. Another current incarnation is Britain First, which was started by someone who was thrown out of the BNP for being too extreme (!) and which makes UKIP look like a credible political organisation.

And this isn’t confined to the UK, either. All over Europe there are similar political parties and movements. France has long had the Le Pen family leading the Front Nationale. Italy has the Northern League, which is anti-immigration. Germany has the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) which began life as an economic movement but has jumped on the racist angle and is getting huge increases in public support as a result. Similar groupings exist in Spain and Austria, amongst others. Flip the coin and you have ISIS, or Daesh, or whatever we are supposed to call it. Then there was Al Qaeda. And in North Africa there is the Boko Haram group, amongst others. Everywhere you look you see organisations based on hatred, and the worrying thing is that they are generating huge amounts of support.

What are we doing to ourselves? Not content with destroying the planet, we appear to be trying to solve that problem by destroying ourselves from within first. In the song, Nanci Griffith references the KKK and the racial hatred for which it stands. Her song was inspired by a taxi trip around Belfast, which at that time was still a city divided by religious and political terrorism. Towards the end she mentions that she ‘can’t drive on the left side of the road.’ For the uninitiated, we in the UK drive on the left-hand side of the road, although most of the world does it the other way. Her choice of metaphor is very apt: it is about time that we all started to learn to drive on the other side of the road. We have poisoned our children with hatred for far too long.”

And back to today:

Sadly, Nanci Griffiths’ words are possibly even more pertinent now. The song and video were released in 1989, and still bring a tear to my eye. The video was made in Northern Ireland, which at that time was still subject to terrorist atrocities. Those have largely ceased now, thanks to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Yet we don’t seem to be learning from history, do we: the UK government appears totally clueless about how to solve the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and there is, I think, a potential danger that the peace could unravel. This hasn’t been helped by the electoral battering the Conservatives took last year, when hubris and arrogance cost them their overall majority in Parliament, leaving them dependent on a bribed fix with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Never has the word ‘democratic’ been more misused.

In the US, Trump duly won his way to the Presidency, and appears to be engaged on taking America back to the 1930s, with protectionist policies that ignore the progress that has been made, in social, cultural  and technological terms, since the end of WW2. I described Trump in my previous piece as ‘odious’ and I stand by that. Every day it seems we get yet another example of his, and his government’s ignorance, racism, misogyny, homophobia, hypocrisy and xenophobia. Today’s news contains reports of his speech yesterday at the NRA convention, in which he mocked London and Paris for their lack of guns. Seriously, Mr President? You need to take a much closer look at your own country, and not pander to the money of the organisation responsible for making the machines that kill people. I said in the original piece that I feared for the world if he became President, and I still do. It may be cynical, but I do wonder if he isn’t being played by North Korea, who recognise his naivety and egotism. I hope I’ll be proved wrong, but I’m not convinced that this apparent ‘peace process’ will end well. And as for Trump being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize – the man is a coward and a bully, and would demean the honour.

It would be easy to abandon hope, and I’ll admit to being worried about the world we are bequeathing to future generations. But therein lies the real hope for the future. Nanci Griffiths’ video focuses on children: as she says, we need to stop poisoning them with hatred, and allow them to shape a future world which is based on human values like love and compassion. In the US, the National School Walkout campaign – a direct response to the Parklands atrocity, which took 17 lives – demonstrates vividly the lack of moral courage on the part of political leaders to do something which is long overdue. These young people are our future leaders, and it is to be hoped that they succeed where others have failed. If they don’t, then

‘a hard life is all that they’ll know.’

Building A Wall?

April 22, 2017 25 comments

With apologies to Pink Floyd:

“We don’t need no new election,

We don’t need no thought control;

No deeper schism in our country,

Leader, leave us plebs alone!”

I really don’t think of myself as a particularly political person, far less a political blogger, but for the second time this month I feel I just have to vent my thoughts on what is going on. A few days ago, our Prime Minister, Theresa May, called a snap general election. This was despite her saying publicly on five occasions that she would not go for an election any sooner than 2020, as required by law. May became Prime Minister after the debacle of our referendum last summer, and was anointed by her party without an election, as the other candidates engaged in collective self-destruction. She faced pressure at the time to hold a general election, to ratify her credentials to lead the country, but withstood this. Since then, she has ditched her tepid support for the Remain camp and is leading a party which is moving relentlessly further to the right, and somehow seems to have redefined a narrow majority in the referendum into a mandate for what is known as a ‘hard Brexit.’ In other words, her aim is to break as many ties as possible with the European Union, seemingly on the basis of dogma rather than any practical or economic common sense. After all, why just have a simple car crash when you could drive the car at great speed off the highest cliff?

I’ve written recently, in The Ongoing Nightmare, about my concerns for the UK’s post-Brexit future, and won’t repeat myself here. Let’s just say that I don’t believe that the ‘information’ on which voters based their decision was anywhere near sufficiently detailed for a hard Brexit definition to be interpreted as what people voted for. Indeed, there has been some reporting of disquiet, along the lines of ‘that’s not what I voted for,’ but this has been fairly muted, largely because the media in this country – particularly the press – is of a right wing persuasion. I use the term ‘right wing,’ but I could actually have used words like insular, jingoistic, xenophobic or fascist. All apply, as evidenced by the Daily Mail’s front page headline:

I wonder if they realised that the original use of that phrase was by Lenin, in the context of opposition to the Russian Revolution. There is a certain irony in there, as that approach in 1917 led to widespread state control. I hope that history doesn’t repeat itself, albeit at the other end of the political spectrum. For non-British readers, that paper is the worst exponent of fascist ‘reporting’ – after all, it did declare support for Hitler during the 1930s, so it is keeping up its own tradition.

So why has the PM decided to go for an election now? Wouldn’t it have been fairer, if she was seeking some kind of ratification of her approach to Brexit, to have done this before Article 50 was enacted? Yes, of course it would, but although that is what she implied in her announcement of the election, I’m sceptical. Politicians tell lies, it’s how they seem to fulfil their role, and I think that was another. The real reason for the election now is a combination of opportunism and expediency. For expediency, there are growing signs that if she had waited until 2020 we could be suffering the economic fallout from a poor result from the negotiations to leave the EU, and her small parliamentary majority would be at risk from that. As for opportunism – the main opposition party is in a state of electoral disarray, and I suspect May believes she could win a landslide on the strength of this. The Labour Party has saddled itself with a leader who enjoys only minority support amongst his own parliamentary colleagues, and although he welcomed the chance to put his policies to the vote this cartoon from The Times rather sums that up:

© Times Newspapers

Corbyn has already ruled out a second referendum, and by doing so he appears to me to have given up the opportunity to offer a significant difference, and a home for disgruntled voters from the referendum. In the unlikely event of a Labour win, Brexit would still happen, and he might not be able to achieve a better deal than May could. The Conservatives will also expect to pick up votes from UKIP, who will be likely to lose much of their protest vote value. Our system means that you can get a landslide with around 42% of the vote if you do well in the right constituencies and they are polling better than that at present. Whilst there is still a lot of opposition to Brexit I think that is unlikely to translate into Parliamentary seats – I just don’t see how it could. I’d love to be proved wrong though, and there are already suggestions about tactical voting to achieve this. As I live in a constituency that had a 54% Conservative vote at the 2015 election, with UKIP in second place, I think it unlikely that would work here but there are better targets, so I can but hope.

Assuming that the Government does achieve a significant increase in its majority – a landslide is usually taken to mean an overall majority greater than 100, and this seems possible – what kind of country will we be? Parallels have been drawn between our referendum and the US election. One of Trump’s promises was, in effect, to become a much more insular country, becoming more self-sufficient and threatening tariffs on overseas goods. May has been cosying up to that abomination of a human being, and it is to be hoped that she isn’t thinking along the same lines. We will lose current access to EU markets and will have to rely on World Trade Organisation rules, as a small nation with a pressing need to negotiate trade deals with countries who would have no particular incentive to change their current arrangements and trade with us. This isn’t a strong position, despite the optimistic guff spouted by the three government ministers in charge of the process, and today’s news that the US will prioritise trade deals with the EU over the UK confirms our weakness. Trump is also infamous for his promise to build a wall to keep out the ‘bad hombres’ he believes are intent on rape and pillage. We have a natural boundary – the ocean – so being insular is, by definition, much easier for us. I hope that isn’t the plan, as we aren’t big enough as a country to survive, even without the likely loss of contributions from multinational companies who will probably scale back their commitments to Britain when the tariffs kick in. I just hope this election isn’t, all in all, just another brick in our own wall, as we would lose out – we would be isolating ourselves, not insulating.

In her speech announcing the election May said ‘our country is coming together.’ If she really believes that, then she must be living in La La Land! The 48% who voted against Brexit don’t feel that, and I’m pretty sure that many of the 52% who did are having second thoughts about the effect of their vote and the path the country is now following. In two years we will be outside the EU, in what I believe will be a significantly worse state than while we have been a member, and that is not a recipe for creating a united country – and there is the Scottish independence question to consider too. Joni Mitchell put it best: ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.’

A further concern is that the electorate will suffer some kind of fatigue – this will, after all, be our third major election in successive years. This view was put well by ‘Brenda from Bristol’ when told by a BBC reporter that another election was coming:

I’m not sure that this should be a reason not to vote, but I can understand her frustration. Historically, low election turnouts have worked in favour of the Conservatives so I’m hoping the electorate aren’t all like Brenda, sweet though she may be. Perhaps Theresa May factored that into her decision as well? She showed herself to be a canny political opportunist in the way she became party leader last year, so I wouldn’t rule that out.

As you can tell, I’m not feeling optimistic about this country’s future. I’d love to be proved wrong, but somehow I doubt it. Try googling ‘Teresa May,’ i.e. without the ‘h.’ I know which one I’d prefer was screwing the country!

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