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Sunday 26 February 2017

Trojan Horses

I am sure I have talked about this topic, or topics similar to it, before - so I am going to keep this one brief, and just say the stuff I've been thinking about recently. Warning. This will begin educationally and end rantily.

Tony Blair became the leader of the Labour Party in 1994 by virtue of dead man's boots. The internal leadership election pit him against such champions of the people as John Prescott and Margaret Beckett, and he - rather understandably - mopped the floor with them.

He stepped into the leadership of an opposition party staring down a 15-year streak of Tory governance. The Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, had been Prime Minister for eleven straight years - she was followed by John Major. While my hatred of Thatcher's politics is a thing of legend, the hatchet job that was done to her was at least as worthy of scorn. Either way, between the two of them, the country had slid to the Right in a very definite way.

And so, cogs begin to turn. There was a way to gain power.

The attitude of the country was one of fiscal conservatism, a general distrust of Europe after Black Wednesday and discussion of the single currency, and a discontentedness with earnings in general. The glory days of the late Eighties were gone - the dream of everyone putting on shoulder pads and hairspray and earning an absolute killing in the City had become just that, a dream. (Of course, a lot of people were still making a killing. It just wasn't a very accessible club any more.)

This, of course, meant that the Left would feel disillusioned too - and why wouldn't they?

So rather than bringing Muhammad to the mountain, New Labour brought the mountain to Muhammad. They took the old-fashioned Labour party that an entire generation had only known as opposition and "sexed them up". They became new, trendy - and decidedly leaning toward the Centre on the outside...with the odd schizophrenic Right-wing leaning here and there.

Something to appeal to everyone. And sure enough, they took a searing amount of the vote in the 1997 General Election, absolutely crushing John Major. A significant amount of that is, probably, down to personality. John Major tried to do a good job, and was in my opinion one of the best Conservative PMs we have had in the past fifty years. Let's face it. He was boring - and Tony Blair played some guitar and stood around talking with Noel Gallagher.

They came into power, and leaned just a little more left than the Tories had...

...and then went back the other way...

...and honestly the parliamentary Labour party has never really recovered.

They've stopped being the Left. They are an opposition from just a little further Left than the Tories - but that isn't hard, I mean all you have to do is not fine homeless people for the audacity of not having a home. They're not Left-wingers. They've forgotten how to BE Left-wingers, because being Centrist Blairites has given them everything they've ever wanted: money. The villifaction of the Left and the poor and the needy worked out well for a party that had abandoned all three, albeit to a lesser extent than Thatcher and her mob of milk-thieves did.

Smash-cut to today, wherein Peter Mandelson - yes, that Peter Mandelson, the one who pushed through a bunch of anti-privacy laws after having dinner with the CEO of Geffen Records on his million-pound yacht - creeps forth from his fucking crypt to state, flatly, that he'll do everything in his power to bring down the current Labour leader, who has been elected twice so far and may need a third election just so this shower of middle-ground tossers actually shut up.

Now I understand why the Liberal Democrats made the deal with the devil that they did. They shook hands with the Conservatives and compromised against their natures, and it gave them that whiff of power - and for five years they held those seats, though not without attractive a significant amount of abuse (sometimes more than the Tories, which is a bit odd).

Labour just made the deal first. They made it back in 1997. They stuck the knife in their old principles. They didn't sign a deal with anyone or shake anyone's hands - they became the devils themselves. Three years after John Smith's death - the previous Labour leader before old Tony got in - they turned the party into something that would have made Smith spin in his grave. Can one imagine how Harold Wilson - who died two years before New Labour's victory - would have reacted to his party's heel turn?

Being in opposition is more than just making witty remarks about your opponent. It is more than just doing things the press will like you for. Being in opposition means OPPOSING. It means that in a time of enforced harmful austerity and deliberate malicious treatment of the British people, trying to emulate the people doing it - only perhaps with a little less cackling mwahaha - isn't effective. "They're all as bad as each other," some cry, and - you know what, at times, I look at significant proportions of the Labour party and I understand where that perspective comes from.

I don't believe Jeremy Corbyn has made 100% correct choices in his role. I am not sure his move regarding Brexit was the best one, though I am not so ignorant as to the parliamentary process as to believe it was as simple as it is held up to be.

But for fuck's sake, Mandelson hates him. That alone should be enough to make you want him in charge. The Murdoch press rips on him at every chance they get, as do the New BBC (same as New Labour, lean to the right for a greater market share). He is labelled as unelectable, in an ouroborean fashion, because he is labelled as unelectable. If you strip away people who say that or "I just don't really like him very much", then you are left with an actual, valid fucking leader of a Left-wing political party.

Even if you're afraid of the big scary S-word.

If I am really lucky, by the time the next election comes around, the Labour party will be the Labour party again. Not New Labour II - Labour. Harold Wilson's kind of Labour. Labour that recognises the wounds inflicted by the current administration and actually does something about it, rather than sparking massive internecine conflicts because the leader isn't your kind of Centrist.

We don't need a fucking Centrist.

We need an opposition party.

Saturday 18 February 2017

Slices Of The Cake

I'm no baker, but I know a few people who are pretty damn good at producing cakes and confectionaries of quality.

So if you bake a cake for yourself. Usually you go away and buy the ingredients for the cake. You then take those ingredients and put in the work to make the cake - the time and effort. At the end of that period, you have a cake.

The payoff of this is - well shit, you have a cake. That's awesome. That's YOUR cake.

Okay so. Lets say someone goes out and gets you the ingredients for the cake, on the understanding that tthey are going to receive a portion of the cake for this assistance in helping you make it. How do you fairly decide how much cake to give them? Like put aside any notion that they might be your friend or neighbour or whatever. Assume this is basically a stranger, though at least one other person that you know has baked a cake with them before.

I suppose a fair way to divide up the cake is to compare how much effort goes into each part of its creation. If the ingredients are very rare and expensive and require a four-hour round trip, then that perhaps indicates being worth a lot more of a share of the cake than someone who had the ingredients in their cupboard anyhow and just popped them over on the way to the shop.

But you're the one making the cake, right? So ultimately it is your choice. I mean if you want to be ethical about it, you make the offer beforehand so the individual can assess it is fair - but then we are assuming that these people are indeed fair. We're baking cakes for each other after all.

So imagine this scenario.

Someone comes to you and offers to bring you ingredients. They ask you to bake them a cake with them. And they tell YOU how much of the cake you get to keep. And you don't get to keep very much at all.

No problem, you might think. They are bringing all the ingredients after all. I mean they are putting in that effort.

Then you find out that they have approached fifty other bakers with exactly the same offer, and then you pause for thought - because - it is almost as easy to get hold of a LARGE amount of cake ingredients as it is to get hold of a SMALL amount, in terms of effort. And that effort is being put in once - after which the person making the offer benefits from the effort of fifty-one bakers.

And to each of those bakers, this person has said: I am making this much effort, so I will let you keep this much cake.

So you get angry, and you say to this person: I put in more effort than you did. I MADE this cake. This cake was made by me, took up more of my time than you spent getting the ingredients. How do you get to dictate how little of my cake I get to keep? How dare you value the small amount of effort you expended so much more than the large amount of effort I have expended?

I don't think that's an unreasonable thing to ask.

So we get to the end of the day, and each baker, including you, has half a cake. And the purchaser of the ingredients has 25.5 cakes. Every single one of you has expended a similar amount of effort.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?

Now imagine you aren't baking cakes for yourself. You are baking cakes that get sold, and you get paid for baking cakes.

Let us assume you bake ten cakes in a day. If you were baking for yourself, then you would have to go out and get your own ingredients, so - the amount of money you have after the fact is however much you sell the cakes for, minus the cost of the ingredients.

But you're just baking those ten cakes, on instruction from someone else. They buy the ingredients for two hundred people to bake ten cakes. Those people all bake ten cakes, you included. Then this one person who bought the ingredients is going to sell the cakes, and pay you out of that money.

Now, if we assume that the effort put in to acquire the ingredients (MINUS the cost) is the same as baking the ten cakes - that those doing this actually put in the same effort in a day's work - then a fair division of the income made from the cakes is as follows...

You take the income from the cakes sold. You remove from that the amount of money it took to buy the ingredients - that gives you your gross profit - and perhaps how much you've had to pay for the building, the power, the water et cetera. You then divide it up based on effort, and given that every single one of these people - you, 199 other bakers and one buyer-seller - has put in the same effort, then you divide that sum of money by 201, and everyone gets to take that home today. Well done.

Let's say, though, that there's multiple people buying the ingredients and selling the cakes. Then there's someone whose job is to make sure that the people who bake the cakes are baking the cakes right. Then let's say that there is one big bod, whose idea this whole thing was, who got the loan from the bank or the money from wherever to buy the FIRST big batch of ingredients and put the penny in the power meter to fire up the ovens.

There's still 200 people baking cakes. There's 5 people buying, 5 people selling, 1 person peeping over shoulders, and 1 person doing all the maths. That's 212 people, who put in - when it comes down to it - approximately the same amount of effort. Now we are spreading the funds a little thinner, because while the same amount of cakes are being baked, there's more people to spread the sales income between - which means that ideally, those extra people are either increasing the productivity of the cake bakers (ensuring they can bake eleven a day maybe) or the efficiency of buying ingredients and selling cakes.

So again, a fair division is money gained from selling all cakes, minus cost of ingredients, minus cost of plant and necessary goods, divided by 212. Because everyone put in approximately the same effort.

I keep stressing that point.

So here you are. A baker, having baked for several different people over the years. You think you are pretty good at baking cakes. You can produce 12 cakes of decent quality in a day, and you've proven you've got a good work ethic. You approach a person who owns one such theoretical cake-baking building, has done for many years, because you need to bake cakes to get money to, well, stay alive. Everyone needs food and shelter - even bakers.

You sit down in a nice room. The person sat in front of you isn't the person who owns the building - they work for them. It's their job to make sure the bakers bake, and to bring in new, good bakers.

After assessing your baking credentials - twelve cakes a day, indeed, how impressive - it comes down to brass tacks. You are told how much you will be getting to bake cakes.

It's not very much.

At least, it's perhaps half of what the person in front of you gets, and perhaps one tenth of what the person who owns the building gets. But then, that's fine, right? Because your effort is what you are rewarded for. You put in a full day's effort, you get paid the equivalent of two cakes. While the person who is hiring you clearly puts in two day's worth of effort every day, and thus receives four cakes - and the person in the big office puts in five times THAT much effort, and thus, gets twenty cakes.

But hey. You get TWO CAKES. There's some bakers that don't even get ONE cake until after their first year. That's great!

You take the job.

You never see the person in the big office, so you have no idea how they put in ten days worth of work effort into one temporal day. But that's fine. You're sure they've earned it. Right? ...right?

And all those other people - those people who don't actually come into the building that you bake in, that sit at home and once put in enough flour to make several batches of cakes - it's right that THEY all get a bunch of cakes too, right? Cakes that you've made. I mean you already agreed to only get the equivalent of the first two cakes you make every day. Who cares what the rest of those cakes go toward? Who cares if the person that gets those cakes REALLY deserves them? You get TWO CAKES.

So you wonder why, at night - when you go home, and you sit down in your small flat, and you eat your reasonably-priced meal - you feel a little bit cheated.

You're right to.

If you are curious about anything I have just alluded to, do yourself a favour and google what Surplus Value is.

If you're okay with getting two cakes, then you haven't been paying attention.

Saturday 11 February 2017

Will Of The People

I have come to hate the phrase, Will Of The People.

It only seems to apply when a political decision that is going to make things worse for us has the support of a vocal minority. It rarely gets rolled out when things are done that the people would actually want to happen. "Parliament Must Obey Will Of The People And Rough Up More Brown Folk", the headline will read, not "Parliament Obeys Will Of The People And Issues Free Solar Panels And Awesome Stuff To Literally Everyone".

It is another example of needing to pay attention to what politicians - and those in the public eye in general - do, rather than what they say.

Theresa May is desperate to finish off the job of total privatisation. She and hers want this country slashed to pieces and divvied up between the private investors they are mates with and married to (and sometimes actually are, let us not forget that some of these Tory bastards actually still have business interests). The thing is that privatisation is great for two groups of people only - shareholders and predatory businessfolk.

We will be told it is the Will Of The People.

It's not going to work out well for us. It didn't the last few times this happened.

Cast your minds back to the Thatcher era. Those miners were a bit upset, weren't they?

Well, that was because their livelihood was being sold down the river. Thatcher decided that, rather than subsidise the British coal industry, we would be able to import it cheaply from Germany. So, that put an end to that. Pole-axed an entire industry. Say what you want about coal as a source of energy - that literally killed off a big cornerstone of British industry.

(Out of interest, the reason why we could get it cheaper from Germany is because the German government subsidised their coal industry.)

More recently there has been the failing of British steel and Royal Mail. In the mist of time we have lost British Telecom, British Gas, and dozens of other nationalised services.

Next will be our NHS. It's been on the cards for a long time. It WILL happen.

Meanwhile, there was enough public money kicking around to bail out half a dozen banks, to refit and replace nuclear weapons that we don't need, and to underwrite the arms industry.

Is any of that due to the Will Of The People?

I fucking hate that phrase.

Sunday 5 February 2017

World Of Words

The world is a scary place.

If I gave a list of the ways in which it was scary at the moment, the things that were being done not just on UK and US soil but far wider, then I would have to come back and update this blog every few hours - just as each new and toxic thing emerges, like an iceberg being hauled out of the ocean, or a thriller determined to deliver a shock every three pages.

So of course, the world of fiction is a very attractive one.

No reason why that is wrong, of course. It's not. Whatever form of escapism floats your boat, as long as it doesn't stop you getting in the way of getting shit done. I blogged about that once before. I also blogged about why people tend to like taking part in activities that are defined and precise - because there's no room for uncertainty.

Sometimes we read about things that parallel scarily with what is going on in real life. Anyone who has actually read Nineteen Eighty-Four will see the uncomfortable similarities with the way modern life and modern living seems to be going. Sometimes we go back to reading the things we've read a thousand times before, such as myself with H.G. Wells' The War Of The Worlds - I read it something like once a month.

The thing with fiction - with video games, with movies, with anything like that - is that we can put it down whenever we want. Our thoughts and feelings remain with us, but whatever stress and tension is created by the media itself goes away when we will it so.

The bad guys are more believable, too.

I mean, having read the first six volumes of The Expanse, I find myself understanding why the folks that end up as the series antagonists do what they do. Sometimes it is a shitty and selfish reason, but that doesn't mean I don't understand it. Sometimes it is misguided or ill-conceived, but I still grasp why the person in question would do that dumb thing, because we all do dumb things at times.

I don't understand a lot of decisions being made today that directly affect my life.

Like some of them are obvious, yeah? Cutting business tax, using public funds to cover business costs, reducing government outlay to the general public, reducing culpability - all of that is pure greed manifest in political language. That's wealthy folk looking after other wealthy folk.

A lot of their decisions seem to be just...nasty. Just plain hostile for no good reason, much like my last blog detailed.

So why wouldn't we go back to fiction? Why wouldn't we read about heroes triumping over villains, or threats far greater than just base humanity being defeated by courage and honour?

And even if the bad guy wins, it's a fictional world that he has triumped over. It's not us. It's not you and me. It's not our friends.

...and contrary to what a lot of folks might have you believe, indulging in the world of fiction is not mutually exclusive to engaging in the world of the here and now. Immersion in either is a terribly dangerous thing, and can lead to burnout and fatigue - at the least.

So pick up a book, folks. Watch a flick. Dig into some old comic books.

Ain't no shame in it.