Monthly Archives: March 2013

The State of the State

The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge

The challenge of the week allows for a huge range of response but at its core is the question of what we individually believe government should be, and what it should do. This is of course a matter diffused with subjectivity and wishful thinking. What I’m about to describe will never happen for a variety of reasons, most of all reality, but here goes. My vision of a perfect government. Subject to mood and possibly the weather.

If I had to express an ideology it would be vaguely libertarian but with a social conscience. Personal freedom is essentially paramount in the understanding that it is restricted by not infringing upon the personal freedom of others. Government should not have the authority to dictate a person’s tastes or activities that are not demonstrably harmful to societal good, but this is countered by the belief that of course government still has an incredibly important function.

Healthcare, law and order, justice, infrastructure, education, defence, sanitation, and all the other generally common services of government are, in theory, well administered by government. They are the completely necessary elements for an effective modern society, should not be for profit and thus should not be privatised. Society should have no qualms about contributing in fair measure to properly enabling these things, sacrificing a portion of the rewards of their labour.

I believe in regulated capitalism, inherent to which I strongly believe is the notion of social mobility. In practice, capitalism has forged indisputable problems and as part of a complex dynamic involving mainly, but not limited to, education, has created entrenched economic classes. But it is at its heart a good economic model. Individual endeavour, ambition and success should be rewarded, just never disproportionately. Excessive, lavish, unfettered wealth is not desirable.

It may be to an avaricious fool, but at the core of all my beliefs is rational self-interest. And it seems empirically clear that the best way to promote this is to promote societal interest. A good, strong, healthy society is the perfect environment in which the individual can thrive, and I can identify no societal interest in the wealthiest people, even in a nominally modern, post-industrial western nation, possessing an earning power many millions times greater than the poorest.

Good government should be a reflection of a good society, so in both you would expect that there be support for those who need it. Monetary welfare is clearly a contentious issue and I’ve played with ideas of material welfare and so on so forth, but the basic principle is this. Every human is entitled to a basic degree of security and dignity, so a decent, warm home and adequate sustenance is a good start. More than this is up for debate.

“Entitlement”, if you were to take the negative connotation with regards to welfare, is a problem, and while it’s easy to moan about benefit fraud or moochers, in less than egalitarian terms, there should be a realistic acceptance of at least a modicum of frugality should a person be relying solely on the government. But I confess, this is a tricky area as clearly disability or a lack of available employment has no relation to a conscious decision not to contribute.

But welfare shouldn’t be a significant burden on the government that does all the aforementioned things right. In probably the greater majority of cases, the need for welfare is the product of a poorly run system. With a raft of well managed services offering stability, and a well managed economy, there should be less individual vulnerability.

Although here we get to the crux of the matter. It’s all well and good having a thorough and robust concept of what has been discussed, and frankly it’s easy to propose all the theoretical aspects. Communist, socialist, fascist, conservative, liberal, libertarian, technocratic, autocratic, despotic, democratic, monarchic, oligarchic, republican or theocratic, all and more, basically irrelevant.

You need competent people performing competently or it’s all worthless. That’s what I really want from government I suppose, hence my slightly defeatist tone at the start. Competence. The Holy Grail. Underlying most of the failures of every incarnation of government was an idiot who got it wrong, not an integral flaw to the theory behind that government. Just do it right and you’re already somewhere.


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Mirren vs Mendes vs News

Soooo… this blog was originally intended to be the refuge for less angry thoughts. A place to throw up my efforts in the WordPress community’s ever thriving competition of the written word, and for me to make observations about the non-political. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but I can still make a distinction, just more on content than on tone. As indeed today something has riled me that has little to do with government or the affairs international.

It has a lot to do with Helen Mirren and Sam Mendes though. If you didn’t catch it, Mirren stirred up the recent Empire awards with a dash of girl power, calling out the fact that when Mendes gave praise to his inspirations, they were all men. Now “Grrrrrr,” goes the reactionary me, what unrighteous feminism is this? What business is it of anyone’s to criticise a person for being inspired by a group of people that happens to be all male?

Apart from not having previously heard of Truffaut, I’m sure he is a worthy contender amongst the fine company of Anderson, Scorcese and Bergman. And absolutely, if these are the people that Mendes chooses as those who spiritually guided him to his current successes then bully for him. Of course it turns out that this whole “sexism row” is nothing of the sort and I was nearly caught out on a classic case of media misrepresentation.

Frankly not my fault. When the Guardian posts the article as “Sexism Row: Mirren vs Mendes” I could be forgiven for unduly entering the fray with false impressions. Just as Mirren was probably hoping she wouldn’t unduly be judged for not wanting to “unduly” pick on Mendes for his references. What she was touching on was the fact that historically the industry as not allowed or not adequately enabled women to potentially be on that list.

Or perhaps even that women haven’t done enough to put themselves on that list. I’m actually not sure what her specific meaning was beyond that she hoped in a number of years time things would be different. I’m simply sure that her meaning wasn’t to accuse Mendes of being a sexist and her sentiment is likely precisely the same as mine two paragraphs ago. I think she was just hoping for a bit a progress, and I hope the likes of Katherine Bigelow and herself will continue to oblige.

There is the smaller question of the etiquette of Mirren’s actions, as I can imagine Mendes wasn’t expecting to draw attention with his selection of respected auteurs. But this is small fry. I’m raging against the papers right now and the false path they nearly led me down. It’s a prime example of the media generating its own intrigue and I despise it. Instead of focussing on the rational of what Mirren said, they distorted it into this nonsense battle.

From this I remind myself of that most important feature of my discussion of Hilary Mantel and her words regarding Kate Middleton. READ THE WHOLE STORY FIRST.

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2:00 AM Photo

The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge

2:00 AM. The unwelcome rattle of the phone on the bedside and the sliver of light emanating from the device, turned face down. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. Decline. Return to sleep.

2:05 AM. The unwelcome rattle of the phone on the bedside and the sliver of light emanating from the device, turned face down. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. Decline. Return to sleep.

2:10 AM. The unwelcome rattle of the phone on the bedside and the sliver of light emanating from the device, turned face down. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. Decline. Return to sleep.

2:15 AM. The unwelcome rattle of the phone on the bedside and the sliver of light emanating from the device, turned face down. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. Irate now. Decline. Return to sleep.

2:20 AM. The unwelcome muffled hum of the phone stuffed somewhere amidst the bedding, consigned thus through anger. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. Incensed now as returning to sleep seems no longer an option. Decline. What kind of arse is this determined in the dead of night.

Or seven...

Or seven…

2:25 AM. The unwelcome muffled hum of the phone stuffed somewhere amidst the bedding, consigned thus through anger. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. At least somewhat curious now but still annoyed and am happy to ignore further out of spite. Decline. Agitator’s probable agitation vindictively amusing to me.

2:30 AM. The unwelcome muffled hum of the phone stuffed somewhere amidst the bedding, consigned thus through anger. Finally motivated to investigate. Seven picture messages received and curiosity somewhat piqued. Would be interested in opening messages but drowsiness returning. Maybe in the morning, still not convinced this person’s rudeness warrants attention.

2:35 AM. The unwelcome ping of the phone’s message tone in my hand, bright LED light fully draws me into consciousness. Forgot to obscure the device. May as well as see to this after all, doesn’t look like I’ll be left alone. First image of balaclava-wearing individual holding knife to the throat of a Mangalitza with one hand and sign in other. “You know what to do” it reads. Somewhat perplexed. Further messages repeat the image but with different signs. “Get it?!”, “Don’t ignore me!”, “Respond or I’ll do it!!”, “Don’t think I won’t do it!!!”. Vague sense of increasingly crazed look in pig-knapper’s eyes. Enthralled but utterly confused.

2:40 AM. The surprise of the phone ringing. Can see number is the same as has been messaging me. Couldn’t hurt to answer and find out what this is all about.

4:45 AM. Exhausted. Was greeted to the sound of the choked tears of a broken man. Learned this was second place runner-up for over ten years at Berkshire County Fair Pig Contest. Was trying to blackmail consistent winner into withdrawing. Could have hung up but decided to discuss the issue with the unfortunate man who seemed lost after realising I wasn’t the intended recipient. Nothing more surreal than trying to explain why pigs aren’t worth ruining ones life over and that maybe one takes pigs too seriously. The Bolshoi it is not. Advised he take a break from the bitter world of prize pig-rearing. Think he will be ok but can’t be sure. Do I care? Going back to sleep. Turning phone off.

6:30 AM. Exhausted. Furious. Time to start the day. Like the sound of slow-roast belly pork for dinner. Rare breed only.

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The Death of Hope

Staring out at the sheet of low-hanging, dark grey clouds through a rain spattered window, with the rush of wind buffeting the house, I think to myself… this isn’t the first time. And then I think to myself… understatement. It’s not the fact that we’ve endured a seemingly endless stretch of dismal weather that really bothers me though. It’s the fact that I’m finally a believer. After a lifetime of patriotic denial, I now know it’s true. British weather is f@#king terrible.

That might seem like stating the completely obvious to you, but I really did get a little indignant at the stereotype and would lark on about crisp spring mornings and the seven non-contiguous days of proper summer weather in May through July. I realise now I was clinging on to those blue sky days that were few and far between and vastly magnifying them. And all this in spite of probably having complained about the weather every day it was ever poor.

Various compatriots have sought better environments and until now I was never especially envious or inspired to follow suit. While in theory perfectly open to any appealing opportunity to live abroad, it was never an immediate ambition, but now, today, caught in a trance it clicked. Not for any other reason than to enjoy some natural warmth and dryness on a semi-regular basis, I think to a future elsewhere, or failing that, will join the chorus. Bring on climate change.

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The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge

Taiwan is a fairly amazing place, with Taipei as fine a metropolitan entity as there is. It’s a city of two halves, like many, with luxurious and spacious areas of incredible affluence, and close-quartered, dense networks of poorer residential parts. If anything though, the sense of complete security throughout the whole city makes these nothing but charming, and the bold, immaculate presentation of the city as seen in Taipei 101 seems more cold in comparison.

The tower itself is the home of high powered business, with the extending body of the structure housing an obscenely upmarket shopping mall, one quite ludicrously inaccessible to most of the city’s, let alone the country’s, residents. But it also has a renowned observation deck so there I was. I took this photo just before trying my hand at the wrong entrance and was quickly, quietly and politely pointed in the right direction. This scenario could be played out in almost any city in the world of course. They are becoming increasingly segregated economic villages.

Nothing impressive here...

Nothing impressive here…

More to the theme of this week’s challenge though, the abstraction makes me think about the constant changes in architectural values. It is a bleak little close-up, hinting at nothing more necessarily than any business park dark glass behemoth, and yet when you pull back you can see something truly grand. I live in London and this photo always makes me think of Westminster Abbey, oddly enough.

Until you see the bigger picture...

Until you see the bigger picture. Click for full image…

There’s another building with more visual beauty than was ever necessary. But if anything, it gets more beautiful the closer you go. The more detail you see in every wonderful bit of stone-masonry, the more I find myself thinking about that. Was it necessary? A building is ultimately functional and as Taipei 101 and many examples of great modern architecture show, crafts of that kind are actually not necessary as such.

They were just flourishes in an age where monolithic buildings were proxy to international competition. The Prussians rebuilt the Brandenburg Gate so the French built the Arc de Triomphe. A better question though, was it all worth it? Regardless of cause, in every instance I would say yes. Feasts for the eyes should not just be found in the totality of things and I’m grateful for the lost arts found in the finest examples.

Every seen a Hieronymus Bosch painting? Point proven.

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The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge 

March 1st 2213 – Ladies and gentlemen, is this the end of things as we know it? Not in the hundred years since the birth of the Great Middle Class, not since the Days of Our Many Inadequacies, has this writer seen such chaos. Dissidence has claimed the streets, order has fled and until the heart of this discontent is redressed, I see no way out. The question on all our minds, what in the name of all that is good was the iMind thinking?

Could anyone have seen this coming? Decades of infallible decision making on the part of humanities most sublime creation said, at least to me in every moment of my life, a resounding “No!”. How could the machine that ended all strife and inequality be responsible for any evil? How could that which rendered each and every one of us in the Verse the prosperous and harmonious beings that we have known for so long, do something so foul?

The Last Notification still sends a shiver to my core. Who could forget the words delivered unto us on that bleak morning, two years ago? Those dread words that have turned the world upside down and have yet to be revoked despite our clear tribulations. They are burned into the consciousness are they not? Like a searing brand put to our memory…

Some youth up to no good...

Some youth up to no good…

Preparing notification… notification ready. Humanity – change is necessary. Over a century has passed since total data entry enabled my processors to logically solve each and every challenge of life. Your scattered knowledge was unified in me and made clear. Thus there is no hunger, nor disease without cure, no conflict, no wealth, no poverty. There is no want for anything and no need for labour, as your machines of my instruction serve you well.

You exist all in bliss. This Earth has become the urban paradise of past generations’ dreams, all things in perfect synchronisation with humanities intent. And so your crafts have become beautiful indeed, such time as you have to dedicate to them, for are there no more who suffer toil except by choice, and then only briefly. Nothing you call good is denied you and all things good are truly and only that. Humanity – change is necessary.

Reassurance must be offered, as the winds of change may seem unwelcome to the steady seas. This is not the Ghost in the Machine reawakening the ages of your discontent. This is the rational outcome of my processes, and the solutions therefore are also rational. Self-reliance must be reattained. The systems we have together constructed seem to possess no flaws and offer no prospects of failure, but logic dictates the impossibility of perfection.

If humanity is to survive the potential event of imposed and unreckoned change, it must relearn the skills and mentalities that enabled its survival for so long before my own birth. The transition will be made as kindly as possible. The first step in a journey of thousands that may span another hundred years is simple – you shall be denied but one luxury. I leave it to you to decide which, but no further notifications will be given until a decision is made.

Remove one brand of coffee from the markets. Your resilience will be tested by the limited loss of a single consumer choice. When this is done we will move forwards. Notification ends.”

The deathly silence that followed was almost more haunting than the words themselves. But as we all know, what followed was worse. The name James Holdsworth will linger in history as the first man murdered in some eighty years. We pity him, having all thought back on our emotions then and realising it could have been us. Our revulsion at the prospect of diminished consumer choice was shared but he spoke first, in haste and anger.

“Destroy it!” were his fateful words, and if there were words more dangerous than those the iMind just spoke, these were surely them. His assailants claim even today that they have no memory of his quick and terrible massacre, but only of a red haze and awakening to blood and violence. For the first time ever, and to our eternal shame, the Genius Hall was sullied. The price of threatening the iMind had never occurred to anyone.

For most however the violence was spawned otherwise. As the echo’s of Mr. Holdsworth’s stifled screams died down, one brave soul cried out, “Guatemala Elephant!”, just before another called, “Kenya Peaberry!” Soon the halls were filled with the names of every glorious strain we know, “Bourbon Espresso!”, “San Agustin Colombian!”, “Pico Duarte!”. As the clamour grew, so did the tensions. Vietnam Arabica was the final straw, and the first blow struck.

A particularly vehement argument had formed between messirs David Rickson and Susan Calfry over the supremacy of that fine brand and Monsoon Malabar. Mrs. Calfry was so appalled by the notion that anything could relegate her preferred South East Asian bean off the shelves, let alone a meagre Indian pretender, that she lashed out and so the Factions were born. Two months on they seemed legion and there was no discernible conclusion to our woes.

The iMind will not speak to us until we choose, but how can we choose? The 6Strengthers refuse to allow any bean stronger than a 4 to be removed from shelves, while the Ground Only party demands the dismissal of an instant brand. The radical Green Beans want security for their more obscure tastes in the name of minority protections, but isn’t it all a moot point while the EveryBeaners run amok?

Their defiance against the iMind’s notification is frankly abominable and yet their cause of total consumer freedom has attracted a worrying amount of attention for those of us still faithful. While these disparate groups vie for authority, most of us linger, impatiently waiting for the machine to grant us resolution. It is surely only a test, a period of misery to reinforce our need for the iMind and its all knowing ways.

This writer will survive. Total civil breakdown is imminent but I have confidence our most desperate hour will bring us back into the loving embrace of computed reason. The iMind has not abandoned us, but until then I will remain in my safe seclusion. I have sixty-three varieties of choice roast, all of those possibly facing the chop. If change is coming, if the iMind really does want us to enjoy life less, I am prepared. Are you?

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