Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Cranick Fire and What Government Must Do

Last week a man in Tennessee called the fire department to report a fire. The operator asked his name, checked a list, and told him the firemen would not be coming as the man, Mr. Cranick, had neglected to pay a $75 fire subscription fee.

He offered to pay it right there and then, just come and put some water on the fire that was consuming his home, please. The operator refused, on the principle that if they put the fire out, no-one would bother to pay the subscription fee upfront.

Mr. Cranick's concerned neighbour offered to pay $500 then $5,000 for the fire department to come and put the fire out, but they only budged once the neighbour's house caught fire, and then they only doused his neighbour's home up to the fence line; his name was on the list.

Mr. Cranick's home burned to the ground for the good of the community, according to the local fire chief; everyone will pay their $75 subscription fee knowing that the local firemen are the pawns of faceless bureaucrats who operate purely on capitalistic principles; human decency can take a back seat - they will do their duty when the correct paperwork had been filled out.

Mr. Cranick lost his dog, his cat and his family home, as well as every possession not made of fire-retardant material.

This is an example of poor capitalist governance: from time immemorial fire has been THE principle threat to communities everywhere; a thatched roof catches a spark from a blacksmith's iron and the whole community can lose everything precious to them in a matter of minutes. Civilised government provides, if nothing else, three things: policing, organised defence and fire fighters. The reason for this is that successful, powerful, well-off people don't want to live in places where criminals have free rein, or that might easily be pillaged or where fires can start and won't be stopped.

If it is in the wealthy man's interest AND in the interest of everybody else in the community, you can guarantee it's good policy. The subscription fee for a fire department is an outlying crackpot capitalist notion, conceivable only by barely sentient, obese, complacent, utterly blind, unimaginative luddites, unable to count the words "Good social policy", let alone spell them or have any conception of what they might refer to; in short - only in America.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Democracy: An Interlude

"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

- Winston Churchill

"Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

- Churchill, again

"Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few."

- George Bernard Shaw

"I am a democrat only on principle, not by instinct, nobody is that. Doubtless some people say they are, but this world is grievously given to lying."

- Mark Twain

"Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."

- John Adams

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Hu Shi

"Fighting for your own freedom is also fighting for national freedom, fighting for your own rights is also fighting for your country's rights - because a free and equal country cannot be made by a group of slaves!"

Jackals and Vultures

Politics is the empty promises of jackals and vultures, the theoretical whimsy of serious Germans hijacked by ambitious hoodlums as a fig-leaf to cover their enormous inadequacy, it is the out of place smile on Gordon Brown's desperate face (, it is the murderous Tony Blair's sheen of acceptability, it is David Cameron's "common touch" (you may have noticed it when Dave looks into the camera and smiles, leaning back slightly, gripping the podium firmly, and your intestines shoot up to your larynx and tries to throttle you in a desperate attempt to preserve your humanity).

Politics is the process by which it is determined who should govern, not how one governs - that is governance which is an almost, but not quite, entirely separate issue. Because people can't be trusted, we need politicians to govern; so the first rule for ambitious politicians is that they can't be people. This rule is studiously followed by all concerned, the good and the bad.

Barrack H. Obama is not a real person; he grew up rising at 4am to study, he taught constitutional law at the foremost university in the world, he has written two books, won the Nobel Peace Prize and in the space of five years went from being unknown to being the President of the USA.

George W. Bush, on the other hand, failed at every venture his father put him in charge of and was a drunken cocaine addict spoilt rich boy who went from being the joke son of a one-term president to declaring victory in an election where he got less votes than the other guy, going on to become the world's most hated figure.

These aren't people; they're cartoons, like Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner. My prejudices paint the colours brighter. I have a sympathetic reaction to Obama because he speaks to his audience like they were intelligent; I hated Bush the first time I saw him walk - an overblown waddle full of unearned confidence. They present the world with what they want the world to see, their political opponents present us with a dimmer view, neither side comes close to true, then the electorate (which might be millions or it might be a dozen people, depending on the system) decides.

So these inhuman ciphers are imprinted on by the electorate, their colours are painted all garish and clashing, in order for one or other party or politician to emerge victorious.

In politics, that is the end: power. There are promises to fulfil, the piper must be paid and all that, but once a politician has power, then the rest of their career is spent doing two things: defending what he has and getting more power.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Politics Embryo

Politics is inevitable once you accept a few widely accepted, but not necessarily necessary, facts:

1) You cannot be trusted to run your own life.
One could re-state this as:
1) Other people will always seek to manipulate you.
1) Humans are more innately evil than they are innately good.

Whichever formulation you lean towards, and I'm sure there are many more, the central idea remains that individuals need to be coerced into treating each other with any kind of respect or care; humans won't do it on their own. One has good reason to fear anarchy if one thinks people are seething balls of irrational rage waiting to slip the bonds of social responsibility and lash out in every direction.

This leads to:

2) For there to be any such thing as justice it needs to be enforced by an authority.
2) You and I must be controlled or we will surely run amok.
2) Save me from the bad men!

Once you accept that others cannot be trusted, then one needs an authority to govern them, otherwise who will keep our violent neighbours in check?


3) Communities cannot regulate themselves.
3) People you know can't be trusted to make good decisions.
3) You cannot be trusted to make good decisions.

There are cultures in the world where communities punish crimes, prevent unfair treatment of their members and educate their young without interference from a faceless authority. I suppose within these micro-cultures there is something approximating politics going on, but in every situation where there is more than one person involved there is a kind of politics. But that is not the kind I'm interested in here.

4) Mysterious figures, whom we have often never met, should be given the power to regulate our finances, punish our misdeeds, send our armies into war and speak on behalf of everyone in the country.
4) We need God on earth.
4) Please; I don't want to think about any of this - can't that guy do it?

Once you have accepted these points as facts, assuming you have a say in the matter, the only question you have left to answer is: "Which guy?" And that is politics.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Capitalism: Zero Value

"Destroy all dreamers with debt and depression" (A Silver Mt. Zion)

Capitalism is the sanctification of greed, the governmental blessing to go forth and whore, steal, cheat, lie, subjugate, litigate, pollute, enslave, abuse; it is the acceptance that the worst of humanity is also the most universal, the most influential on our thinking, the most fun to revel in. Capitalism, whereby goods and services are offered at the price that people are willing to pay, makes no pretence that any object, any service, any person has any innate worth. People and things, the efforts of skilled professionals, works of artistic ("genius"? no; "merit"? not even that) intent, are all cushioned from the consumer by a thick film of bureaucracy that would have you believe in its own necessity.

Contrary to popular belief, however, capitalism is not the only system at work in the UK. The NHS is an example of a government run service that does not operate solely on the principal of profit making (no; it's here to bankrupt every last household in the UK). I didn't really understand this or capitalism itself until I watched the great American healthcare debate unfold last year.

You see, in America, sick people are a burden on the profits of insurance companies, as well on as their families, so the system is designed to make actually claiming on one's health insurance policy as tortuous as possible. They have a system where, if you are a woman and you get pregnant and need maternity leave, your possession of a uterus is considered a "pre-existing condition" and so will not be covered by your policy. Other "pre-existing conditions" that would disqualify you from coverage could be cancer, heart conditions, diabetes, asthma, ulcers; basically if you've had a cold and then get lung cancer five years later, you better hope the guy who (I shit you not) they send to look into your medical history by talking to neighbours, colleagues and family, doesn't find out about it, or you could be paying tens of thousands of dollars for necessary, life saving treatment.

America is, however, a strange, fucked up place. People actually protested on behalf of the insurance companies to preserve their right to make as much profit as they want, accusing Barrack Obama of radical communism, fascism and ruling by dictate, (they don't like them commy nazi monarchists). Why? Because the US is a capitalist country and in a purely capitalist system a service run for the sake of the service itself and not for profit is an anathema. The fact that the US already has "Medicare" for the over 65's, along with several other non-profit government programs, means of course that the US is not a purely capitalist economy, but they weren't to know that; they're cretins. The fact was, to maintain their very way of life, they believed it was necessary to continue to be denied healthcare and to make unworthy cackling leeches richer than God himself for the pleasure.

However, healthcare isn't important here; the whole debate was just a baffling exposition of the manipulative powers of moneyed interests. The reason I brought it to your attention is that it demonstrated to me the essence of capitalism; profit is not just the bottom line, it's the whole dictionary. The goods you buy are valued at zero, the service provided to you is completely worthless; all that matters is that you'll pay x amount for it and it only cost someone y to provide it so they make z as clean profit; if they can go ahead and make the x you pay as clean profit, they will.

I will doubtless revisit capitalism in later articles, but I'll link to an interview from the time of the healthcare debates between a congressman from the left, Anthony Weiner, and host and former congressman from the right, Joe Scarborough. Watch as the penny drops and they realise there is no point in continuing debate as their politics are so fundamentally different they may as well be different species between 3:36 - 5:35 and again at 7:00:

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Maps of Eutopia

Politicians may be ambitious, promiscuous, worm-ridden sociopaths, but I don't doubt that most of them, when they first decide to run for office, are genuine in their conviction that they can help society become better; right wrongs, foster happiness, stand up for justice - the whole inspiring conference speech. They have a vision of what they want society to be and it tends to be Eutopia.

The right often feels nostalgia for a time that never really existed: in England, it could be for a time of Victorian gentlemen flattering Elizabethan ladies with Edwardian prose and medieval chivalry, or for some fictitious country village where everybody knows everyone's names and the home fires are always burning and brandy greets good tempered farmers after a hard day's honest toil. In America, it is some 1950's suburban paradise, where father knows best and little Jimmy with his rosy red cheeks plays hopscotch on the sidewalk while mom bakes a pie. Islamic fundamentalists are in a swoon over some non-existent golden age of Islam, where Shariah was uniformly followed by all Arabs everywhere exactly the same way.

All these nostalgic visions are heavily edited, of course: the insidious evil inherent in every one of them never rears its head in the conscious minds of Conservative and Republican alike.

However, in their nightmares they must see the slavery, the racism, the oppression, the violent subjugation of a good portion of the world that made this past possible. Victorian gentlemen might flatter their ladies, but they'd strangle their whores just to hear them squeal and beat their coolies afterwards for sport; the farmer may have toiled, but he also mechanised, so large swathes of the countryside could be worked by a solitary man, leaving the village's labourers out of luck; father's word was law, so his wife darn't whisper a word about her black eyes and little Jimmy knew to stay away from those Clay boys: they were hated by God and cursed with black skin. The Taliban forget just how accommodating Muhammad and every successful Islamic ruler was to other faiths and cultures, but they follow the Kuran to the letter; you don't expect them to READ it too, do you?

The dreams of the left are no easier. Their Eutopia is a land not yet realised, a land of the future; for the communist, it is an egalitarian paradise where workers enjoy an equal share of the fruits of their labour, for the socialist fairness is a meritocracy where one works more, produces more and so gets more, regardless of rank within society or company. Money is abolished entirely, of course (hurray!); everyone just follows the rules because the rules are good for everyone.

That is the starry-eyed vision of those little Lenins you see peddling 'Socialist Worker' on UK campuses. The more practical among them acknowledge the necessity for governance and so advocate a central bureaucracy as the solution and suddenly, through that chink of practicality, comes flooding the light of history with its gulags and its polit bureau, its KGB, Pol Pot and The Great Leap Forward. Our starry-eyed Lenin is blind to all that, he sends us onward into his shadow - Eutopia is always ahead.

The left, however, is not limited to the reds. One also finds theories on reformations of society through technology like in Star Trek (oh, yes; it's a political philosophy) where somehow the ability to travel to other planets stops humans from being greedy and violent (???). The idea that mankind could outgrow his basic desire to dominate and destroy is touching and inspiring, as is the idea of a world where everyone works for the betterment of themselves and society and lives harmoniously with nature. Pandas should be fed; criminals reformed, not punished; races should coexist harmoniously; sex should be a free expression of joy and love, not a power game or a shameful fumbling.

The left is good at mapping Eutopia in the privacy of its own delusions, but when it comes to the route to Eutopia, the way is somewhat less clear. In the past it always seems to have meant millions of people dying through starvation and mad experiments in production, hence the lack of discourse about socialist Eutopias come election time.

I can see it now, the honest politician stands up at his party's conference; "About a tenth of the electorate will be starved to death in order that we can watch our woolly policy of wealth redistribution and social restructuring fail. Then we'll hush it up and declare everything a roaring success, before I kill most of my competition for post of Supreme High Chairman, and rule for thirty years as a paranoid, irrational, cold psychopath, unable to look myself in the mirror without involuntarily vomiting."

Of course, exceptions abound to the rule - hippies who want to shed all technology and live butt naked in the trees are nostalgic for a fictitious past, but are certainly on the left - however, it works as a general rule that the right is nostalgic for a fictitious history and the left dreams of an impossible future.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Left and Right: What does it mean?

It is rare to find people who are able to define the differences between left and right without resorting to pin-pointing policies that either side might advocate for. Many bloggers, commentators, newsmen and journalists seem to not have the faintest clue what it is that separates the left from the right, only that they ARE separated and that it's their job to keep in that way.

There is also a lot of talk about principles in political speeches, though not in news media because principles aren't news; they're the unreasoned urges of the power-hungry and shameless voles that scuttle through the ancient halls of power, leaving their mess piled waist deep for the next generation to wade through. However, principles are no less real than policy, they're just less exciting; they don't change. Well, they shouldn't change - they appear to all the time, thanks to the unutterable minions of Satan we call 'politicians' (sounds so reasonable, doesn't it? "What do you do?"; "I'm a politician", the word hides so many multitudes of sin in a mere four syllables, I wonder how many volumes it would take to describe every last drop of disgust that oozes through every decent human being when faced with such fiendish, soulless, perverse creatures?)

But, yes; "left and right: what does it mean?" that's what I'm doing... put simply, the right doesn't want things to change and the left does. Hence "Conservatives" wish to conserve. They want to keep everything just as it is and, if possible, roll back any changes to how it was so it can be that again. That covers traditions, power structures, law, property rights: everything. Basically they want to keep the whip in the hands of the rich to preserve their right to tread on the necks of every pauper not already throttled by debt, starvation and unemployment - but, sorry, that's policy - the principle is, if you're on the right, maintaining traditions and preservation of culture is your driving force.

On the left, change is the principle. Again, that applies to everything; traditions and power structures, etc. This leads to the many-faces of the left, where one may find liberals and socialists and communists; all manner of Messianic hoodlums wanting to tear apart all that is holy and good in the world and rebuild it in their own twisted image, banning all religions, eviscerating the family, indoctrinating sons against fathers, burning history itself and why? Because, in the fevered minds of revolutionaries and theorists (Marx, Castro, Blair) they think they know better. No, sorry, most of that was policy, too. The principle is that the left wants things to change, in order to be reformed into something they view as better.

There is plenty more to add to this, but that's a reasonable place to start.