Black Friday: Is Big Data the new Democracy? (Obituary, Fidel Castro)

Obituary

So, Farewell then, Fidel Castro.

Reaching 90 was a great achievement, given the many attempts on your life by the CIA. Probably due to your magnificent national health service, large cigars and bracing climate, you survived.

It’s a shame some of your ex-friends and political opponents didn’t make it past their 40s.

“…the key marketing ingredient of all consumer products being the deliberately designed-in margin of dissatisfaction”

The blackest of Fridays

By: Consumer Correspondent, Delia Bogof ©2016 @poundland.com

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/nov/24/black-friday-shopping-lies-consumerist-hell#comment-88128695

I recommend this cut-and-paste link, assuming it works, to a lengthy but fascinating Marxist analysis by Stuart Jeffries of the consumer-capitalist conspiracy known as Black Friday.

Perhaps it should be renamed ‘Red Friday’, in honour of the ink-bespattered statements that will flutter onto your doormat in December, just before Christmas, to remind you of the sheer lunacy that overtook you on 25 November, when you found your righteous soul being sucked away down a retail storm-drain in the artificially generated mass-panic of Shopageddon.

My motto is, of course: ‘Don’t buy stuff, don’t burn stuff.’ And that could mean something as simple as just staying in bed tomorrow, pulling up the covers and relishing the thought that no sale bargain is going to give you so much gratification as that smug feeling you’re going to get from knowing you resisted the siren call of the merchants of stuff.

Except that yesterday, Blue Thursday, negotiating the exit lane from the supermarket past piled-high tins of festive biscuits at Only £4, £60 plastic trees (with LED lights) and £12 litre-bottles of soothing industrial vodka, I succumbed to a sudden urge to spend £30 on a fetching, sky-blue, retro-styled, portable Akai vinyl-record player in a nifty little suitcase, with added something-or-other, Bluetooth? Greensward? Greybeard?

Why, for Pity’s sake?

I actually have a proper, old-fashioned DJ-style turntable hooked up to an old amp and a pair of speakers, for playing the few scratchy LPs I’ve mostly hung on to since schooldays, half a century ago, when in moods of eccentricity. But there was nowhere else to put it except on the floor behind the piano under the avocado tree where it’s difficult to get at, and the amp has developed an annoying mains hum, and the complicated system of weights and measures that balance the tone-arm for optimum performance is fiddly and maladjusted….

Did it meet my need to maximise my media usage in, for instance, the sitting-room? The kitchen? Upstairs? Travelling in the camper I haven’t actually bought – yet?

So often have I given in to the impulse to acquire an apparently desirable item after walking past and eyeing it hungrily forty or fifty times, and then regretted it, that I feel sure Buyer’s Itch must be a recognised medical syndrome.

I’ve already bought my Xmas presents, far in advance. Back in September, I spent some money on some things – a saxophone, a weekend jazz workshop, a tablet thing – some other stuff I can’t remember, and decided to allocate the expenditure across both my October birthday and Christmas. I come from a precariously small family: there’s only my mum, who may not make it to Christmas this year; and my two kids, both twenty-something, busy making lives and dispersed throughout the land.

Ensuring I still get the essential quantity of presents every year is really down to me alone now*.

So this record-player is something else: a nostalgic wind-up reminder of my youth, possibly; a little ‘Dansette’ in a box, like the one I had in my study at school, where I found Miles Davis and Archie Shepp and Roland Rahsaan Kirk, the Stones, Leadbelly and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers  to fuel my teenage boarder’s spotty rage.

Anyway, what’s £30 nowadays? The blue wooden suitcase is fine, the thing does actually work; but crappy, so crappy the plasticky turntable, the tone-arm, the flimsy cartridge, the knobs and levers, the hinges and the catch…. all made from gossamer-thin stuff, light as air and twice as bendy.

What did you expect, other than mild disillusionment – the key marketing ingredient of all consumer products being the deliberately designed-in margin of dissatisfaction that eventually swells to a desire to trash the thing and buy a better one, that will take your itching consumer discontent to yet another level of suicidal, self-loathing despair.

While somewhere out on the sparkling sea, the smiling, carefree Mr Akai is entertaining a bevy of lovelies with expensive champagne and cheerful banter: far from the madding crowd, the lowering skies, the scrambling contumely, the drizzling loneliness that follows free with every purchase.

Fuck capitalism. Just absolutely fuck it.

*To emphasise this point, my ex-sisters-in-law, known as The Aunts, each gave me a book for Christmas. I am trying in my OCD/Asperger’s fashion to find a kind way to point out to them (suggestions on a postcard, please) that a) I have bothered to read only one book in the last five years (on global food politics) owing to z) failing eyesight and y) ditto comprehension; and b) if I were disposed ever to read another book in my life, it would be neither x) brooding broadcaster Jeremy Paxman’s autobiography, nor w) Monty Don (the gardening writer) writing about his loveable dogs.

I have however detected a pattern here: Paxman, Don and I are all self-proclaimed boarding-school survivors who have written extensively about our depression. Now you know why.

Postscriptum

We hear a lot about the ‘Just About Managing’ class, families who work but barely make ends meet.

Good news then that they Just About Managed to spend £2.9 billion on acquiring Black Friday bargains, online and in the High Street; mainly on credit cards. The bulk of the stuff they bought was imported – Chinese-made, US techno-garbage.

Trump this, Trump that

As a fascinating footnote to history, we discover that Donald Trump’s paternal grandfather, one Friedrich Trump of Kallsberg, Bavaria, having avoided military service by the simple expedient of travelling to the US, was later expelled from Germany by official proclamation as a draft-dodger and illegal emigrant (not immigrant, emigrant – you needed permission to leave), and returned to New York in 1905 with his pregnant bride – Elizabeth Christ.

In just that one sentence lies a world of semi-fictional narrative possibility. It gets better.

Friedrich subsequently joined in the Klondyke gold rush and opened a restaurant-cum-brothel, sending back to New York the gold nuggets in which he was paid for the ladies’ services. The Christ-child, Trump’s father Fred, thus benefited from his mother’s and aunts’ property investments, founding the fortune on which little Donald relied to repair his early-years business failures.

His obsequious pleas to the Kaiser to be allowed to return to Germany having fallen on deaf ears, Friedrich thus escaped having to do military service a second time and so was not killed in the First World War. Lucky man. Smart, you might say.

Now, there’s a lot of fake news about, I’m told. The attribution for the foregoing, reported in The Guardian, is to historian Roland Paul. Let us hope he is not simply making it up as a Facebook meme for our times.

But in the ongoing debate over nature versus nurture, the story of the Trump dynasty does seem to score quite a lot of points for gene theory.

Bag it, don’t bin it

Following his release in the late 1940s, a German PoW chose to stay and make his home in England.

Christian Brann went on to found the business that still bears his name, Brann Direct. A creative copywriter, he pioneered the use and science of direct – or ‘junk’ – mail in this country. You may revile him or admire him, the choice is yours (Yes envelope, or No!).

But you should not misunderstand him.

Many years later, my creative agency had a motto: ‘It isn’t junk until it goes in the bin’. (Gentle Reader, I wrote that!) The point being, that while direct, personalised advertising is intrusive – it doesn’t work otherwise – it can and should also be entertaining and informative.

Whether the recipient acts on the information or not is less material than that they read it, then put it behind the clock for future reference. Either way, we can learn from their responses.

Drawing on his pre-war experience, Brann realised that if a company could know as much as possible about its potential customers and their preferences, it would actually save waste and enable them to enter into a kind of mutual partnership that would make future transactions as efficient as possible. Producers and suppliers would be advertising only to a self-identified group of interested users instead of splurging expensive ad copy into the void. Thereafter, the pool of willing buyers would just need occasional topping-up.

Earlier efforts by advertisers to recruit purchasers to ‘club’ schemes had been successful, up to a point; but required the kind of commitment that not everyone busily rebuilding the postwar world would be able to keep up. A less formal relationship was needed, that would use up no more time than it took to tick a box and pop the self-folding envelope back in the post on the way to work, preferably with a small cheque inside.

Consequently, although most recipients are unaware of it, the piece of mail you get in the post may only be one version. In a process of assiduous testing, other versions will have been targeted to different consumer profiles – including previous customers – to see which works best, for which groups.

The right product, at the right price, at the right time, to the right buyer….

Profiling is the key to successful direct mail – that, and lucky timing. By continually testing and refining the message in all its elements – headline, copy length and style, design, different price-points, the ‘free’ offer, even the colours used – and by applying the latest consume profiling techniques, the theory was that you would end up doing less advertising, use up fewer trees, in order to achieve your sales target; at the same time, receiving feedback from responders, and even learning from non-responders, data that would enable you to refine your product or service, saving on waste at the production end as well.

It’s the sheer volume, rather than the concept, that I think is most annoying to people; also, there’s a lot of badly designed, badly written, badly targeted crap. (Less than 1.5 percent of mail pieces sent ever receive a response.) Having said that, the most successful mailing campaign I ever created, I deliberately designed to be as awful and offputting as possible, as I disapproved of the product (a cheap and nasty brand of cigarette…): it achieved an unheard-of 16% response.

So if junkmail didn’t work financially, they wouldn’t go on sending it. In theory.

I keep reading nowadays that the use of algorithms by large tech comms corps to gather and sort unimaginable quantities of data on millions of consumers by tracking their internet usage is a sinister development, enabling for instance Facebook to target ‘news’ stories of the kind its bots determine is of most interest, using evermore garish ‘hook’ lines, and to link-in pop-up advertising with similarly interesting themes, at an individual level.

In other words, Facebook is less a social media site than a giant advertising conspiracy to capture your very soul and turn it against your bank balance!

As I don’t have a Facebook account and rarely if ever respond to messages from companies I have not bought from before – as a grownup, I can make up my own mind about what I need to buy and how to find it – it doesn’t concern me much. I employ an ad blocker, I’m sorry if that deprives media outlets of revenue but as I tell them, I wouldn’t be spending money with their clients anyway. And as a compulsive looker-up of stuff for this, muh bogl, my Search history must resemble a bookworm on LSD. Predicting my interests from it has thus far been an abject failure!

In fact, the core principle of direct marketing seems not to have changed in any major respect since Christian Brann’s day, other than in the sheer size and sophistication of the Big Data systems involved in data capture and cross-reference, and the more accurate targeting of products and services at individual consumers rather than broader user-groups.

New industries are coming into being on the back of it, to manufacture and distribute products with maximum efficiency. New manufacturing techniques are converging on a world in which products may one day simply be spun like candyfloss in a printer, from raw materials to order, minimising wastage. The age of bulk manufacturing and mass marketing is nearly over. Soon, numberplate recognition will enable roadside billboards to advertise to individual motorists, products and services in which they have shown, or predictably ought to show, an interest; don’t be surprised when your self-driving electric car or your kettle starts selling you stuff!

Thus, it could be argued, Big Data may not be the evil surveillance machine that wraps us all in cotton-wool and informs the security services that we are thinking about destabilising an election, or are about to have an accident in the home; but it just might be the new democracy, forcing industry to respond more rapidly and willingly to the individual demands of the ‘electorate’ – the people who vote with their credit cards – and politicians to be more acutely aware of our social needs and preferences than under the old ‘party’ system, that is no longer fit for purpose.

Advertisements

We are all good little boiled frogs now #2

 

…laws of this kind tend to create more people who, although not bad now, will be made bad, either by honest intention to resist State totalitarianism or by innocent association with others; by the commission of crimes not yet defined as such; or even, by mistake….

From our Legal Correspondent, ‘Nosher’ Rosenberg ©2016. @wotmeguv?.con

Amid all the hoo-ha in the media over Trump’s election and the controversial amusement-stroke/frisson of horror of watching the reality TV star fumbling with the appointments of his ministerial team, the seven dwarfs (including at least one visibly congenital cretin), the rise and rise of  ‘Lord’ Farage, Frozen Girl, and in the absence of any cohesive Parliamentary opposition, the Investigatory Powers Act was signed into law last week, making Britain one of the most intensively surveilled states in the world.

(Hi, how are you this morning?)

This is but the latest stage in a process that may be said to have begun historically with the network of informants created and operated by Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster and counsellor to the first Queen Elizabeth.

Fitting therefore that her namesake, the second Queen Elizabeth (no relation) should have signed into law, superpowers allowing a whole range of statutory bodies, including the security services and even local authorities, unprecedented access unfettered by an increasingly alarmed judiciary to the private communications and records of everyone in the land – a strategy they have been steadily developing outside the law for a number of years.

When taken together with the accumulated powers of arrest and detention enshrined in the various anti-terrorism laws; coverage by CCTV (combined with face- and numberplate-recognition technology) being already more widely in use than in other countries; the banning of persons, trials-without-jury, extended powers of detention without trial, undercover policing and the extreme extension of criminalisation of modes of even private speech and behaviour that have come into being since 9/11 and the 7/7 bombings in London, the Investigatory Powers Act completes the total abolition of any sense or hope that the British citizen is in any way sovereign in his and her own country, or has any right to a private identity.

We are now in completely new, historically unprecedented territory.

These powers do not require there to be any suspicion that a person under investigation may be connected with terrorism or serious crime. They allow for the first time for the content of any electronic communication, spoken or written, to be inspected without a court order, as opposed to the mere facts of dates, times, locations and recipients being flagged.

Consequently the focus of the security State can be shifted towards political views, dissenting opinions, religious beliefs; material (or possibly not) facts relating to other investigations; possible indications of tax evasion, minor fraud (including benefit fraud), illegal occupation, immigration status; coercive behaviours and so on, and with an unnerving emphasis on intent:  predicting tendencies to possible criminality or, indeed, voting intentions. Assumed tendencies that could, in time, themselves be made indictable in a court of law.

Add to that the powers to requisition and cross-reference current and historic data from global communication service providers, some of whom hold vast volumes of data logged from such innocent activities as online shopping, information enquiries, web profiles, subscriptions, log-ins, bona fide academic research, media viewing habits or even spelling lookups, any search terms entered being stored indefinitely against IP addresses; all social media messages and photographs (even in private folders); GPS locations, bank details, travel bookings, health records and so on and on and on – the rumoured ability of backdoor State-introduced malware to be used to commandeer and control the devices in your living-room, your workplace or even your pocket; your own technology, actively spying on you.

There is now nothing that has been evidenced by the use of any means of communication, by or under the heading of or even the mention of, anyone in the land, that cannot be known about us by any authorised body of investigators, for whatever reason; that might not, under existing or future law, be used against us.

Of course, we are blandly told, it is for our own protection. There are bad people out there, who need to be stopped.

Yes, and laws of this kind tend to create more people who, although not bad now, will be made bad, either by honest intention to resist State totalitarianism or by innocent association with others so minded; by the commission of crimes not yet defined as such;  or even, by mistake: such systems being notoriously prone not only to error, but to wrongful and malicious intent.

A crime-free society is neither possible nor desirable: the element of criminality cannot be erased, anymore than can religious or ideological fundamentalism; nor should it be in a dynamic world. Without at least some ‘crime’ and concomitant efforts to combat it, without challenge a civilization atrophies. And definitions of what constitutes ‘crime’ depend on laws enacted and enforced differently in different legislatures: there is no absolute marker.

Moral relativism has led over centuries to the State we live in now. Today’s Establishment leaders were yesterday’s robber-barons. And, it can safely be argued, criminalisation of behaviours in fact creates, rather than eradicates, criminals; the so-called ‘war on drugs’ being a classic case in point. All prohibition is counter-productive.

What happens when the law changes, under a less ‘benign’ regime of the kind that are now vying for promotion in many countries of the world, including the USA and its special little friend, of course we cannot say: other than that history teaches us it will not be pleasant.

The unfortunate side-effect of passing such repressive legislation is merely to encourage the powers-that-be that they can go even further next time with minimal protest: the ‘boiled frog’ principle, that leads to the Othering of minorities, the proscription of opponents, the gulag, the torture rooms and the holocaust. The acquisition of data, uncontrolled and unaccountable, is uniquely enabling of the march to totalitarianism.

That such surveillance is becoming evermore globalised is equally disturbing. We are entering a very dark period in the human story and, as ever, Britain is leading the way – downwards.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/19/extreme-surveillance-becomes-uk-law-with-barely-a-whimper?

Warning: contains confidential medical details some readers may find offputting

“The external Bogler is no longer a reliable guide to his general state of being”

I am wondering why I cannot seem to shift this feeling that my life, such as it was, has been stolen from me by cretins.

Looking around, I realise that I have done nothing with my little garden since the Summer. The grass on the tiny patch of lawn  is rank, paths and steps green with algae and covered in the detritus of fallen leaves, bleached dog-bones, emerging weeds and the corpses of slugs accidentally squished as I blunder around in the darkness between my studio, where I live in hiding, and the cold, uninhabited interior of the house.

Returning from an obligatory journey to London, an absence of three days during which I received stoically the news that my mother has an incurable lung cancer, I did for about one hour put on the heating to drive away the damp and musty atmosphere of absence. It hasn’t really worked. I don’t generally have the heating on as I am locked in a feud with OVO Energy, a company that – if you don’t use enough energy for their computer’s liking – will simply fake an invoice to try to bully you into paying them an extra £30 or £40 a month, ‘to avoid further surprises’….

Instead, I go to my miserable cold bed in the dark, wearing two sweaters and a cat on my feet. In recent months, the mattress seems to have reneged on its early promise of firm support, so that in the chill of pre-dawn I find various parts of myself have lost nervous connection with my brain. Fitted sheets, too, have a habit of pinging off at the corners. It’s all rather silly, but the endless discomfort suits my mood of dark despair.

Lately, waking after only two hours’ sleep I have found myself having to go to the bathroom five or six times in the night. Producing anything at all requires a muscular effort that has a Newtonian, ‘equal and opposite’ reaction – forgive the indelicacy, but where John Donne opined that ‘No man is an island’ he was ignoring the sad truth that many of us do eventually become incontinent; perpetually blowing-off while leaking some unrecognisable ichor punctuated with inadvertent slimy semi-solids has become the new normal.

Being penetrated anally by cameras and scanners and a snipping tool in front of a curious audience did at least produce the news last month that my hyperplasic prostate is not life-threatening; merely life-enhancing (see above). However, the operation has done nothing to firm things up, and I suspect that the disturbing ventral sensations and digestive irregularities I have had to put up with for the past few weeks may also be connected. Who’s to say?

As a result I have become tired and fractious. Two five-hour train journeys in three days have not helped, bringing on an attack of the ‘Farmer Giles’ that made walking from the strangely empty apartment – she lived there for 50 years – to the hospital a crabwise shuffle enlivened by the occasional requirement to stop and shove things back. Returning on the first evening, I had happily got just inside the door before pissing myself thoroughly.

The whole sordid process being accompanied by non-specific aches and pains in the nether regions, both front and rear, I have simply assumed it’s an infection and will clear itself up eventually. In the Fulham Road, I am diverted by the sight of a man I take to be a well-known local eccentric, going about with a blue Macaw parrot on each shoulder, with whom he appears to be chatting. Catching sight of me looking curious, he glares defiantly. Otherwise, I rapidly become aware that London is a bastion of privilege and wealth, even for the ordinary people, and feel provincially under-dressed. Everyone seems to be an estate agent now.

To all the above we are pleased to add the deep gloom of Brexit and Trump, neither of which came as any surprise to me, although it seems to have totally dumbfounded the rest of the overrated liberal media establishment*. Politics has become a Rocky Horror Show, but without the script. Although one casts about for diversion, it is impossible to escape the spectacle of anguished liberal handwringing, the sackcloth and ashes, the bonfire of the vanities, the dire doomsaying of the fleeing pundits.

The hale external Bogler is thus no longer a reliable guide to his general state of being.

My apologies, but I have to go to rehearsal now. I’m playing a comic pirate.

Again.

*Considerably post-scriptum

I was joyfully appalled last night (19 December) to sit through a special edition of University Challenge, in which teams not of current students but of alumni now well-embedded in agreeable jobs mostly in the media, including one fulltime Guardian journalist, failed embarrassingly to answer a series of easy-peasy, Christmas-cracker questions put to them by a fawning Jeremy Paxman.

Only the fragrant Mary, Lady Archer (wife of novelist Jeffrey) appeared to have a clue about anything, as an ennobled former wheelchair athlete now President of some commité-sportif, and the BBC’s ‘Science editor’, Rebecca Mushroom, failed to volunteer a word between them; while even highly-paid op-ed columnists gurned vacantly and shook their tousled heads at the fiendish difficulty of it all. Vivaldi? Ah, of course! Wasn’t he the Arsenal manager?

Well, not as bad as that, perhaps, but quite bad. Actually, shocking – No-one has offered me a job anywhere in the past nine years, I didn’t go to a posh university or any at all, and I managed to answer probably half the questions myself, mostly correctly and at least quicker.

Shame on the liberal elite, if this is the best they can produce no wonder the fish-porters of Sunderland had the measure of them in June (I noticed there were no questions on Brexit).

 

Retail Prices Index

‘Inflation’ was less than expected this month at 0.6% owing in part to ‘lower food prices’…. Today’s shop:

  • Jacob’s Creek Merlot (special offer – £6.50)
  • Fruit juice 650ml
  • Small piece of cheese
  • 240 gm pack of ground coffee
  • Ham, leek and potato readymeal for 1*
  • 420 gm ox-heart (dogfood – reduced item)

Morrison’s price = £19.49

*I know, but I was going to be out all evening and had no time to cook.

Dialectical Materialism, Marx, Engels, Farage, Zelig, Trump an’ shit: what’s driving the revolt of the Disappointed?

Another fucking farrago

I’m astounded by the media this morning.

Even The Guardian seems convinced that the huckster, Farage is a person of importance, of standing, the very architect of Brexit (he couldn’t even get nominated as the official Leave spokesman), and it is fitting protocol that he should be showing his cheeky-chappie mush in the Trump Tower as Britain’s self-appointed ambassador, to be the first to congratulate his new pal Trumbo on his shit-kicking victory, ahead of either Mrs May or her ditzy blond buffoon of a Foreign Secretary.

It isn’t fitting, it’s a fucking embarrassing shambles, a humiliation for the British government, and when the limelight-grabbing little shyster gets back he should be sent immediately to another Tower, the Tower of London.

Why is no-one jumping up and down saying this? Is the hated liberal elite all so stunned by the way things have panned out lately that they’ve got nothing left (or right) to say?

Mr Johnson has clearly been too busy trying to wrestle the keys to Chevening off the trustees. That’s the agreeable country house normally reserved for the Foreign Secretary, that’s been given over to the ‘triumvirate’ who are supposed to be planning Brexit. Except it became a duumvirate after the trustees refused to let Johnson in, as he wouldn’t stop bickering over which rooms he should have for his own use.

“A friend of Mr Johnson said: “The hold-up is over deciding who would use it, when and where. It is like arguing over a caravan in South Wales.” – The Telegraph

Interesting that the Old Etonian, Mr Johnson’s friends apparently take their holidays caravanning in South Wales. Former miners, perhaps? Anyway, it seems the trustees have relented, so Mr Johnson can now turn his attentions to matters of State, possibly.

Trump won, Boris, did you hear? You can take back all that stuff you said about him.

As for Farage, someone has to tell Trump and the American people that he is of no account whatever. He is Zelig. He has no official standing in Britain, other than as (for the third time) the temporary leader of a disorganised rabble calling itself a political party, UKIP, which is hopelessly enmired in an undignified scramble for the leadership; a party that has only one member of Parliament, a former Conservative publicly regretting that he defected, Douglas Carswell, and he and Farage hate one anothers’ guts.

A privately educated former commodities broker who poses gracelessly as a man o’ the people, Mr Farage has seven times failed to win a seat in Parliament, so toxic is his brand, even in what would be considered a safe UKIP constituency. He thus scrapes a living on his generous salary and expenses as a member of the European Parliament, the very institution he has campaigned for over a decade to pull down around his and everyone else’s ears.

The kind of tiresome, arrogant bore you’ll find any evening, propping up the bar at the golf club, moaning about incomers and why doesn’t the Committee make the little holes bigger, the egotistical Farage has two things going for him, however. Colossal nerve, and an uncanny ability to court publicity.

Plus, he also seems to have tapped into the zeitgeist, as political ‘bubbles’ can be heard bursting all over the free world. Wrapped in the flag, he is very much of the new, darker era of the politics of confusion, the post-truth era of Mr Putin, in which anything goes, and everything goes.

Meanwhile, the corporates and the oligarchs are inheriting the earth.

Editorial

Trusting the sources

In recent days the BogPo has received a number of enquiries regarding so-called ‘Fake news’, untrue stories being confected to influence political decisions and voting intentions and put about on social media such as Fakebook.

It is not a practice with which we would have any truck.

The BogPo maintains a large team of dedicated journalists housed in an affordable signature building in Boglington-on-Sea, whose job it is to fact-check such stories as ‘Queen to be taken up into a cloud, says Palace’, and ‘al Baghdadi nephew to run for White House in 2020’, that have appeared recently on popular websites such as Chatbot.com and Nigel.net.

We can therefore guarantee that 99% of our stories could be fairly accurate, given that our sources are often the press offices of political parties and BBC News.

But it is surely up to individuals to make up their own minds and to prepare themselves for a new and possibly more dangerous era of misleading news information by going to University and getting a good degree, nein?

Professor Doktor Ernst von-und-zu Bogl, Editor-at-Large, Boglheim-am-Rhein. (By appointment)

What’s driving the revolt of the Disappointed?

“This whole series of forms (mechanical, physical, chemical, biological and social) is distributed according to complexity from lower to higher. This seriation expresses their mutual bonds in terms of structure and in terms of history. The general laws of the lower forms of the motion of matter keep their validity for all the higher forms but they are subject to the higher laws and do not have a prominent role. They change their activity because of changed circumstances. Laws can be general or specific, depending on their range of applicability. The specific laws fall under the special sciences and the general laws are the province of diamat.” – Alexander Sirkin, Dialectical Materialism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectical_materialism)

This incomprehensible quote, for those who can’t get away from their Instagram memes long enough to digest the whole of Das Kapital, succinctly defines the basis of Marxism. I defy you to get from this bumbling, confused and amateurish attempt to reconcile mid-Victorian scientific thought, the ‘laws’ of matter and its relationship to social development, to the idea that all rich people are bastards and we should overthrow the System!

Marxism is based on ideas of hierarchy formulated by another Karl, Linnaeus, in the C18th, that a century later encouraged the more noxious prescriptions of racialism: that just as Man is the ‘highest’ form of evolution of the species, so there is a hierarchy of human genotypes that places the rich white man at the top of the tree; a state to which the lower orders must necessarily evolve through unremitting class struggle.

Now, I wouldn’t want to go my whole life imagining myself to be among the lower orders, I’d want to do something about that, starting with my mental attitude and my knowledge of the world beyond my street. Luckily I don’t have to: I was born into a family of rich white folks, who read me bedtime stories and gave me the education which, regrettably, I rancidly threw back in their faces. But a lot of people seem to enjoy wallowing in the trough of self-pitying misidentification with a class of persons whom, in reality, they despise. The ‘working class’ (remember them?).

Being ‘working class’ allows people to feel righteous anger at the way things are, within an all-encompassing philosophy of envy of others, fear of strangers and pride in ignorance; the primacy of ‘family’, without necessarily implying that you have to spend 12 hours a day down a coalmine, toiling in the dark for 14 shillings a week while the missus scrubs the doorstep away. It’s more a state of mind nowadays, than an economic reality.

Thus, I find myself wondering what is it that people really want?

I keep reading that there’s this great groundswell of anger about things: politicians, rich people, inequality – The System. Millions of disappointed people all over the world are marching with placards. They’re angry about the way they’re governed. They’re disenfranchised (only because the people they want to win elections sometimes don’t). Yet you go on voting for autocrats like Trump, apparently imagining things are going to change for the better if we could only elect someone even greedier and nastier, more dishonest, intolerant and authoritarian, and above all rich, than the last lot.

(Trump may be those things; he may not. But it’s what he wanted people to believe, which suggests something about how he perceives the mind of the electorate.)

The ‘Arab Spring’ is a perfect case in point. In Tunisia, it’s happily resulted for the time being in a more progressive regime. In Egypt, so inchoate was the protest that it led, first, to the wrong people getting elected; and then to another military dictatorship, perhaps not yet as corrupt as the previous one the protestors overturned. In Syria it’s led to a never-ending bloodbath, total war sucking in regional players, global powers and a seemingly infinite proliferation of brutal gangster militias professing evermore extreme and sadistic variants of Islam.

Is that what you want to happen here, maybe?

I should have thought the upheavals of the C20th and the wholesale purging of swaths of humanity in the name of para-religious ideologies would have given you pause for thought*? When you carelessly call for the overthrow of governments that are seemingly hopelessly entwined with the capitalist oppressor, do you not understand that the alternative is decades of violence, extortion, imprisonment and murder at the bloodied hands of ideologically backward and tyrannical warlords?

Exactly how things’re going to change, and in what way you want them to, you don’t appear to be able to articulate. Which makes me think it’s not about changing things at all, but about something else.

Boredom, possibly?

It can’t surely be about acquiring more stuff? Because, in case you haven’t really thought about it, the billionaires who are making you feel unequal get to be billionaires only because you keep buying their stuff; then throwing it away and buying more, filling that spiritual vacuum in your lonely life; and if you can’t afford it, you stupidly borrow the money from them to buy their stuff at eyewatering rates of interest, making them even richer. ‘Credit’ – or ‘Debt’ as it used to be known – being the new slavery.

I suspect you’re probably bored with buying stuff, you’ve already got more big TVs and sofas than you need, you might by now have noticed that your iPhone has reached the limits of technology and now you sense there has to be more to life but no-one is able to tell you what. A ‘good war’, a purging of our complacent, pampered and soft generation, that should do it! Remember the last show, when we all pulled together in the spirit of the Blitz? That’s what we need.

I think we have to stop romanticising the Second World War, certainly, and Britain’s role in it. We came within a hairsbreadth of losing, it was a horrible, horrible affair in which 50 million people died, including 27 million Russians, and the only ones who actually enjoyed it were the gung-ho, upper-class chaps who led the mostly disastrous commando raids and flew the Spitfires – the prostitutes, and the spivs who profited from it, before and after.

A lot of the current upheaval appears to be about envy, too; imagining that people who are in fact worse off than yourselves are getting more favourable treatment. That’s not very nice, is it? But easy – many of them are a funny colour, and have funny accents – if they can even, like, speak English proper. That makes it easy to pick on them; and for our less scrupulous politicians and newsprint shysters to persuade you they’re to blame for all your discontents. Our nasty attitude towards refugees being a case in point, led by the repellent Dacre of the Mail, the nation has become meaner, more narrow-minded and and more selfish than I ever remember it.

Those are not, I hasten to remind you, the attitude of the real working class.

So, I’ve been reading up on Hegelian dialectic and Dialectical Materialism, Marx & Engels an’ shit, in an effort to understand why people are still proud to describe themself as ‘working class’; something I’d have hoped we would have shaken off by now, unless you mean you do actually work – and not in an office. You’re a porter, a bin-man, a welder, a press operator, right? A dirty-jobs type, like I was for years, digging gardens and polishing people’s Agas and mopping-up sick after weddings? Someone who’ll put in an honest day’s work for a dishonest day’s pay?

No, really, does how you work necessarily still have to play into C19th ideas of class struggle? When the average wage is now £560 a week? (That’s more than I ever made, even when I had my own business.) While the majority now work in white-collar clerical jobs and the service industries rather than gritty manufacturing? When graduates are covered in chip fat rather than ink? And when you have instant access to unheard-of means of learning and processing and exchanging information, all the entertainment you could want, cheap food and clothing, long-distance travel, holiday rights, free healthcare, educational opportunities and (thanks to the EU, you ungrateful bastards) legal limitations on what your employer can make you do?

Is that not the sort of progress you wanted?

Yes, it’s a hollow promise the capitalists have made to us, house prices and rents seem to keep on rising (not the fault of the capitalist oppressors, but of the building industry ‘banking’ land and unprecedented levels of demand); but it’s certainly got a lot to do with materialism. You’ve got your iPad, your 50-inch TV, your pay-nothing-now sofa, seemingly unlimited credit and all the dumbed-down Danceoff content you could want for. And if you want for something better, who or what is stopping you attaining it, other than your own conviction of your permanent social inferiority?

Of course, there’s the ‘underclass’. You wouldn’t define them as white and working; they’re not part of labour history. And while even the most corrupt and lubricious government minister recognises their plight, there’s only so much to go round, and that’s a sad fact. Their lives are shit, and that’s where the money needs to go, and the time and the care, and that’s what you fucking resent, you ‘working-class’ people, anything going to those worse off than you; which is why the politicians won’t act!

There’s something tragic about people who are trapped in past modes of thought. It seems to negate the evolutionary progress (including the ‘punctuated equilibria’) Marxists always imagined humanity making, that seems entirely visible to me but not to you. You think you’re going nowhere, yet here am I, an Old Age Pensioner living on £250 a week (luckily I have my little house), my wages when I could get work having fallen year-on-year over a quarter of a century,  envying but not envying you your ability to take off on a weekend break to Las Vegas, or follow your team to Rome at the drop of a hat.

You’ve never had more power!

It was Harold Macmillan who notoriously told the British public sometime in the 1960s, that ‘You’ve never had it so good!’. But I have to echo that now. And you’ve never had more power. To say you’re disempowered, disenfranchised, that you don’t make a difference, you have no control is just self-pitying crap, and I’m sick of it. Grow up!

Have you any idea what the political corruption, the influence-peddling were like in the early C19th? If you didn’t own property or you were a woman, you couldn’t even vote. A poor cottager, you could be chucked off the land. While small children were working in the mills 14 hours a day or operating a trapdoor half a mile underground in the pitch black, nobody collectively bargained for higher wages and better working conditions, those that tried were thrown in gaol or deported to Australia. Today’s politicians and businesses are whiter than white by comparison, with more oversight than ever before. (That’s largely thanks to the EU you’ve just thrown out with the bathwater…)

Only yesterday, a cynical Government attempt to remove local authority responsibility for child protection was voted out in the House of Lords. Why? Because of a huge public petition that was presented during the debate. The unequal TTIP trade agreement has been shouted down by ordinary people all over Europe and the politicians listened. Big companies are forced to change policy almost daily by consumer revolts. What you view and say and buy online dictates strategic production decisions. Whole new industries are coming into being, to service your demand for rapid access to cheaper goods. Politicians are acutely sensitive to public opinion, to polls and petitions and headlines in populist newspapers.

After my angry letters were ignored for months, I published a bitter review of my energy provider online the other day and within hours they were desperately trying to contact me to see what the problem was (they’re the problem, but that’s another Post).

You are listened to by those you imagine to be ‘in power’ as never before. They are terrified of you! Do you not understand that the more they have to lose, the more they are beholden to you, the voters?

The ballot box is, it’s true, increasingly irrelevant. Society has evolved, is evolving, other means of distributing political power. Everything the Bank of England has done since the financial crisis has been about trying to pump more money into your pockets, although it has mostly failed, as its parallel and somewhat paradoxical strategy has been to force the banks for safety to increase the capital they hold in reserve, reducing lending. Even George Osborne recognised the problem: low wages and lack of investment were stifling economic recovery – so he upped the minimum wage for three million workers.

Now, the new Chancellor, Philip Hammond has virtually abandoned Bank control of the money supply and his predecessor’s austerity programme intended to balance the budget by 2019 at the cost of our social security net.  Why?

Because of you, the voters.

So it isn’t necessary to overthrow the system, the system has become acutely conscious of your demands. The problem is, you don’t know what it is you’re demanding!

To me, the Marxist theory of Dialectical Materialism, Lenin’s ‘three rules’ (equivalent to Asimov’s ‘three laws of robotics’ only less relevant!) is just mental masturbation, dated reading-room nonsense from the mid-Victorian era. Somehow you’re expected to get from a woolly neo-Classical view of the atomic relationship between matter and biology, via poorly understood Darwinism, to Socialism and the inevitable rise of the proletariat. (Marx never actually advocated mass murder, only ‘struggle’.)

I’ve never yet understood what the proletariat was supposed to do then. Become politicians? Manage the economy better? Or just shoot and starve lots of people whose lives they envied?

Marxism was the philosophical equivalent of alchemy, in its superficial but anachronistic resemblance to quantum mechanics: bogus but plausible (because obfuscatory) scientific theories about the hierarchical ‘laws of nature’ (an improvement at least on the medieval spherical view of the cosmos) extrapolated to a view of human progress emerging out of social situations and relationships that haven’t been historically relevant for most of the last century. And the poor booby didn’t consider entropy, the law that higher orders of energy decay to lower; not the other way.

The ‘working class’ is, you may find, the only ‘class’ of persons left, that compulsively self-defines itself as a class.

Ruskin coined the phrase ‘pathetic fallacy’ to describe the irrational belief in a correlation between the natural world and human emotions. If anyone is guilty of perpetrating the ‘pathetic fallacy’ (you may need to be reminded that ‘pathetic’ has changed its meaning over the years, think ‘sympathetic’), it’s poor old Karl Marx, struggling to describe – prescribe – human social development in terms of dimly understood scientific laws, ‘modern’ theories and misguided rationalisations relating to the nature and behaviour of invisible matter.

His ideas today wouldn’t pass muster in a student debate. Except they wouldn’t be debated – the Union would have de-platformed him in case he upset anyone. The Mail would be campaigning to get him deported. Fortunately for him, nobody bothers to read what he wrote anymore, they just have their own ideas based on a few slogans on T-shirts, a poster of Che Guevara, and fancy they can construct Utopia for the masses.

I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work like that. Trust me.

*There is a depressing vox pop running over on the BBC News website this morning, to celebrate Armistice Day. Virtually none of the ‘millennials’ interviewed in city streets from London to Moscow had any clue about when or why the First World War happened. One said ‘1819’, a German boy thought Hitler had something to do with it…. Educators have to get a grip on this or we’re done for a third time.

Trumbo and the Dumbfucks: Allelujah! – a win to celebrate, if ever there was one

“There’s intellectual and economic elitism, and then there’s the elitism that grows out of the barrel of an AR-15.”

From: Chief Political Correspondent, Laura Facebook in Washington, Uncle Bogler in Boglington-on-Sea. ©2016 @laurasweeplace

I’m wondering if I’ve ever been a fan of anyone’s?

This morning I found myself thanking the Lord I don’t believe in for receiving unto His Simply Enormous bosom overnight, the Canadian poet and droner, Leonard Cohen, 82.

I know Cohen is a figure of profound significance to anyone who was at college in the 1970s whose boyfriend dumped them before they discovered they were probably gay and started to self-harm, but somehow he never got through to me – anymore than did the protean David Bowie, who also managed to rush out a gravelly farewell album this year before departing for that mystery island where foregone celebrities postgather.

I’d guess my life at that time was pretty well cotton-woolled with marriage, at which I wasn’t very good; career, at which I was (except the politics) and alcohol, which I have always consumed at what seems to me to be a frightening rate; a trail of wine bottles bobbing away to the horizon. Sadly there was a 45-year-long hiatus in my musical career, that I am only now struggling to make up for by performing whenever I can afford to pay anyone to come and listen.

I wished Cohen no ill, of course. His songs have been covered by artists as disparate as Madeleine Peyroux, Willie Nelson, Nirvana and – a completely outrageous and wonderful soul-punk version of the Suzanne dirge – Liane Carroll, and they have made decent music out of them. ‘Allelujah!’ is one of the most re-recorded songs in history, for some reason.

The world needs poets, however mournful, and to lose one is like some nasty kid somewhere has said: ‘I don’t believe in fairies’, and another one drops down dead.

Cohen seems to have had a pretty decent time of it, shacked up on his Greek island with a procession of beauties. His career trajectory followed the standard showbiz path out of Odyssean mythology, complete with years wandering in the wilderness and the great comeback tour. We can celebrate the life well-lived.

No, it’s rather that he has at least momentarily diverted the attention of the world away from the monstrous Trump and his shit-kicking win in the US presidential election – an outcome I was dreading having to find something original to write about, hence the delay of several days before rushing into print on the coattails of a bunch of bleating-heart Guardian writers desperately trying to make sense of a rapidly expanding Universe.

I’m struggling to find the Post I wrote a couple of months back, where I argued we should all find good things to say about him, just in case. It seemed to me that the angrier, more sneery and more fearful we, the Liberal establishment, got about Trumbo and the Dumbfucks*, the more likely he was to get the sympathy vote. We seemed to have forgotten that he was at one time a gun-control Liberal Democrat and friend of the Clintons.

And while people are agonising over why the polls and the media got it so wrong, again, I’m sorry to say that’s precisely WHY I’ve been going around looking worried and telling people he was going to get in. It wasn’t rocket science, you didn’t need to be Nostradamus to see that too many people wanted to ‘send a message’ without any thought for the likely consequences, the impact on the unknown world beyond Muncie, Indiana.

The one thing you can’t call them is The Silent Majority. We’re never likely to hear the last of them. But I’m sensing that this has, literally, trumped the divisive bitterness and depression engendered by Brexit. No longer weeping openly and rending our garments, people where I live – surrounded by UKIPpers, we voted solidly here to Remain – are going around meekly with dazed smiles on our faces, being nicer to one another than we’ve felt in a long while. Even the weather’s been sort of okay, too.

Personally, were I keen to smack a politician and overthrow the smug neoliberal postwar globalised consumer-capitalist corporatist babyboomer elite, etc. consensus, which of course I am, so that decent, honest working-class folk facing social and economic oblivion can have more 50-inch TVs and sofas and bottles of Chardonnay and day trips to New York, I still wouldn’t prefer to live in a small area of the country ruled by the toughest alpha-male off the local housing estate, his vicious Malamut-Husky crossbreed dogs, his drug connections and his bullyboy mates.

That’s unfortunately what you get when you throw all your toys out of the pram at the same time, rather than working for change through the existing flawed systems. I think I could manage more easily to live through another eight years of Blair, or even ten years of Thatcher, than have to survive head-down under some opportunistic, dead-eyed warlord; God forbid, one with a bad case of religion.

There’s intellectual and economic elitism, and then there’s the elitism that grows out of the barrel of an AR-15.

The triumph of Trumbo is in that sense to be celebrated: it teaches that there are indeed worse things in life than the prospect of a long, slow slide into insular obscurity, trapped on a small rocky outcrop with nothing to entertain us but the endless yarping of the ghastly saloon-bar bore, Farage. (Did he really say what he’s reported to have said on Talk Radio, that he had better be there to protect Theresa May in case Trump made a grab for her? Did he really say that? Is there any prospect of God receiving this radioactive sludge unto His Enormous etc. anyday soon? Like a more sympathetic planecrash than the last one he bounced out of, hopefully?).

You can push your parents only so far, before they stop your pocket money.

*I’m entirely uncertain, though, what to make of the 26% of Latina women who voted for this Mexic-cleansing, pussy-grabbing, three-times married, non-Catholic, billionaire orange slug. Maybe he just reminds them of their husbands?

Who’s in charge?

“Brexit and Trump promised political control to people who felt their lives had little of it, who were furious at the gulf between their political rulers and the governed and mourned the social cohesion of the past, and whose voices were not heard much in the media.” – Ben Wright, BBC Political Correspondent

To be honest, I’m getting a bit tired of liberal metropolitan elitists wringing their hands and pretending it was all their fault for not listening to the Great Unwashed British and American People sooner.

When exactly was this era of equality with the rich, and ‘social cohesion’ they all want to get back to? How many TV channels were there? Could you go shopping or watch sport on a Sunday?

By ‘political control’, what does Wright mean? Put these people in control and all you’ve got is mob rule, they have no idea what they want (more 50-inch TVs! More sofas! More free stuff!) or how to go about getting it. This is 2016, not 1790. It’s ve-ry com-pli-ca-ted. And, in fact, they’ve been voting for more of the same: only with added nasty. There’ll always be politicians, it doesn’t happen any other way.

Their ‘voices were not heard much in the media’? Which media, for fuck’s sake, have the LMEs been listening to and reading?

From Fox shock jocks and Farage’s phucking phone-in on LBC to grisly opportunistic chauvinist shitbrains like Dacre of the Mail, Cavanagh of the Sun, whichever escapee from Broadmoor edits the Express – the Hopkins creature, Limbaugh, Kyle, TOWIE  – the media is absolutely seething with the maggots of phoney patriotic working-class revolt and dumpster values, while pretending to be as dumbed-down as it’s possible to get and still be allowed to operate machinery.

All this, and only 29.9% credit? What more does the working class want? Politics is so over! Everyone now has fuller, faster representation direct to the providers, courtesy of Twitter, Instagram and Big Data – the new predictive text of human demand.

The truth is, the massive wobbling arse that is the new post-truth, anti-liberal politics today has nothing to do with metropolitan elites and Brussels and immigrants, they’re just handy shorthand for: ‘We’re bored, we want another war’.

 

Prophesy Corner

“The gullible and poorly informed British are almost certain to vote in 2017 to leave the European Union, in the mad belief that the country will do better without “interference from Brussels”. I can’t be certain what effect there will be on the economy, but the motives of the right-wing corporatists who are plotting this schism are clear: they do not want the kind of fairer society Europe stands for. The UK, by virtue of its imperial mythology and insular mentality, is fair game to start the break-up.”

The Boglington Post, 28 May, 2013