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Where Do We Go From Hair? December 23, 2011

Posted by markswill in Media, Navel Gazing, Politics, Schmolitics.

Good evening, and following the melancholic portents expressed in my last scrawl, now we can really get down to it! But first of all, looking back on two years of ill-tempered criticism of the cultural, political and economic status quo, perhaps some over-arching justification is due? Whilst I have no wish to align myself with the Canute-like denials of progress generally associated with my parents’ generation, I nonetheless increasingly find myself at odds with so much of Life As We Know It. Is this because I’m getting older and the secure certainties assumed over five decades have eroded and, thanks to the speed and pervasiveness of technology in our lives, done so at an increasingly rapid rate? Or is it because as we get older, we become more fearful of a future over which, for reasons of failing health, economic impotence and/or intellectual confusion, we have less and less control?

Well search me matey, but what I do know, or at least observe with some assurance, is that however sophisticated their evolutionary state, lack of familiarity breeds fear in animals, and to maintain familiarity for homo sapiens bedeviled by rampant, escalating change, money is the only answer, and lots of it. You’ve probably gathered by now that I do not have lots of it, but I know a few people who do and as they age they generally buttress themselves against change by acquiring the cultural trappings of their past.

So when I whine on about the disappearance of print media (in which I’ve spent my entire working life), or the consolidation of retailing into a few mega-corporations who have power to affect our lives way beyond that of governments (which have too much of it anyway), or the joys of driving powerful, noisy vehicles in a world running out of oil (which bleeding heart environmentalists, often in the thrall of rich landowners, myopically believe can be replaced by windpower) etc., etc., etc., what I am really doing is yearning for the certainties of my past. And, of course, tacitly bemoaning my lack of financial foresight because like so many of my peers who grew up during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s when the possibilities seemed endless and optimism boundless, pension planning  wasn’t even on our radar, and I’ll have to keep working until I croak.

Now that we approach our mid-sixties with only a hundred-odd quid a week of state support to see us through, such adolescent naivety seems reprehensible and those fears become colossal. Time therefore to rail against an ever more incomprehensible world where the people in charge are half our age and we are off their radar except, of course, where the burdens on their tax revenues occasioned by our escalating welfare costs threaten their status quo. So slashing public sector pensions, health service provision and local govt. funding is so, so preferable to frittering away many tens of billions on scandalously fruitless computer projects, military procurement, state-owned banker’s bonuses, oh and let’s not forget the Olympics.

As an aside, I do not wish to become such a burden, but as I see sad-eyed folk only a few years my senior shuffling round with their walking sticks in their charity shop wardrobes or anxiously examining the own brand options in the local mini-mart, as I find myself having to take yet another drug on an indefinite basis to counteract yet another age-related ailment, as my hair and teeth fall out at an alarming rate, and as I notice with dismay in a recent Observer Review the roster of notables of roughly my age who have died this past year, then I realise that like it or not, I will inevitably become an encumbrance to our greater society.

However as I was discussing with better informed friends at supper last night, there is a  very real possibility that along with everything else that the less affluent members of my generation have long taken for granted, the welfare system may fall prey to the coming economic holocaust. Even since my blog earlier this week, the European banking system has exhibited further fissures in its carapace of confidence, and as one friend pointed out, the system is now so dependent on inter-bank credit that if one major institution implodes, then the likelihood is that it will take the rest of them down the crapper. Ditto if Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal or Ireland are forced into terminal deficit and out of the Eurozone, then the consequences for Britain and indeed, the West generally, could be catastrophic.  And I haven’t even touched on the growing threats posed by (nuclear?) war, religious fundamentalism, climate change and the next pig-ignorant right wing lunatic to enter the White House, all of which have massive economic and social implications.

Far be it for me to be the harbinger of doom – or there again, maybe not – but we are already seeing libraries closing, museums and universities charging for cultural and educational nourishment that was once free, the apparently critical retail sector in imminent meltdown and no-one giving anything more of a shit about it all than a ‘change is inevitable’ shrug. That this is also the response to the yawning disparities between the circumstances of the very rich 1% and the variously impoverished 99%, that the same credit rating agencies who gave Lehman Bros an AAA rating days before it went bust are now apparently determining the fate of nations with little political question, and that the great god of growth is seen as our only salvation but without  any coherent or even feasible plans to restore it… well all that does I’m afraid speak to me of civilisation’s collapse.

I’m also not afraid to say that for me personally, change is not inevitable. I won’t join my iPad-proselytizing, online shopping addicted pals anytime soon and so provided I can still afford to, I’ll keep reading printed media ‘til it’s no longer available and even if it no longer earns me a living (sob). I will also carry on shopping at independent butchers, greengrocers and newsagents until they’ve completely disappeared. And I’ll continue to listen to live music and watch movies on the big screen until the last pub and cinema that I can still access on my zimmer frame has closed down.

What about you? But whilst you ponder that, or sniff derisorily at my gloom-mongery, it’s traditional at this time to wish everyone a fabulous Xmas and topping New Year. So as a bleeding-heart traditionalist, I’d better do exactly that.

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Yuletide Cheer December 19, 2011

Posted by markswill in Media, Politics, Schmolitics.

I don’t know about you, but during the past few months I’ve felt a sense of mounting if indefinable dread,  cloaking not just my sordid personal life – which, regrettably, we may come to later – but universally. Railing, as they do, at the greed and irresponsibility of the financial sector which precipitated the recession-going-on-depression that engulfs most Western democracies, the transatlantic Occupy movements are but one symptom of this. I read in a recent New Yorker the tale of Ray Kachel, an apparently secure  computer programmer who finding himself unemployed and broke as a result of America’s economic downturn (a/k/a collapse), decided to join the Wall Street squatters only to end up a penniless vagrant, but there also are other bad signs and evident consequences of our unquestioning reliance on capitalism and its feckless political governance.

The EU’s over-arching response to the Euro crisis, for example, is to compel governments to make swingeing public spending cuts which will, if they haven’t already, reduce the living standards to which we’ve become accustomed for decades. Cameron’s recent hissy-fit at the umpteenth crisis summit was, we are told, to ensure British sovereignty over the financial services sector which threw our economy down the toilet and ignores the reality that 50% of our trade is with a Euro-zone that’s almost surely bound to follow it. Smart move, young Dave.

Correctly, it’s been pointed out that unfettered reliance on credit has done for both society and the political apparati that was supposed to secure its finances, but when the spending has to stop, then the consequences must be faced. That said, I disavow lefty apologists who contend that this summer’s riots were due to social inequality and deprivation, but it seems clear to me that a population brought up to expect a welfare safety-net, if not certain levels of affluence, is not going to quietly buckle down and metaphorically dig for victory when they abruptly disappear. At least not when the trappings of prosperity and instant, unearned celebrity are rubbed in their faces by the media 24/7. So when the cuts really start to bite, as they already have in Greece, I would expect there to be far more civil unrest – a euphemism for fightin’ an’a lootin’ – on our streets, too.

Proof? Well although we don’t of course live under a dictatorship, on the evidence of the so-called Arab spring, and what we are now seeing in Russia and the US, regardless of the painful personal costs depressed and/or deceived citizenry are becoming emboldened to rebel against their oppressors like never before in my lifetime. What, for example, are millions of longterm unemployed youngsters, many of whom who’ve been forced to pay heavily for a further education that no longer guarantees them work, supposed to do with themselves and their accumulated debts? Sit quietly at home and play computer wargames that espouse mindless violence?

I also find it extraordinary that despite a groundswell of respected economic polemic, our government fails to acknowledge, much less exercise, the need to revive Britain’s manufacturing base which successive administrations have willfully run down in the dumb belief that north sea gas and financial services would be our balance of payments salvation, ho-ho-ho. Instead we hear daily wailing about the beleaguered retail sector which is  supposed not just to be a barometer of the nation’s economic health, but the engine that will drive up employment and tax revenues. For chrissake get real guys: with massively escalating unemployment, energy prices and constant warnings about our dire economic state, who on earth is going to go out on a sustained shopping spree… on imported goods which enrich only remote eastern economies?

And Mary Portas, whose smug hypocrisy I have previously excoriated, has now unveiled her plan to revive Britain’s high streets which basically boils down to easing local taxes (which councils strapped by government cuts clearly won’t), tighten lucrative planning regimes (ditto) and cut restrictions that deter market traders (irrelevant). Tellingly, when one of the few reporters who raised her conflict of interest in also advising shopping mall developers who are in large part responsible for the decimation of the high street, Portas said she “didn’t want to go there”. I bet.

Anyway, with 200 outlets closing every day and Amazon offering an app that allows you to compare its inevitably lower prices as you walk round your local shops, town and city centres are basically screwed. And so as my oft-bemoaned consolidation of retailing into the hands of just a few online and supermarket giants moves ever closer, with all the disadvantages and dangers that holds, I’ll get personal.

I learnt last week that the site of the aluminum foundry that finally threw in the towel earlier this year is likely to house my hometown’s first supermarket. And this on top of the recently announced closure of one of the town’s two banks, HSBC, with the likelihood that following its recently announced ‘rationalisation’, the other one, Lloyds TSB (which operates just three days a week) will follow suit. This, allied to the increasing incidence of home delivery trucks from Hereford’s Tesco and Asda some 24 miles away, would seem to sound the commercial death knell for the high street of what was, at least before the recession hit, a fiercely independent little town.

Much of this you’ve heard from me before, although repeated tornadoes and flocks of dead birds falling from the skies aren’t driving this writer into a psychotic bunker mentality as they did the hero of Jeff Nichols’ gripping, if overlooked recent movie, Take Shelter… But as I began this little rant by claiming, there is I think something rather more ominous than wintry gloom in the air. And having taxed your patience with some 950 words today, if you can handle a little more pre-Xmas cheer, watch this space on December 23rd.

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