The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'grim meathook present'
The final nail was driven into the coffin of Britain's quasi-socialist post-WW2 settlement, with the Conservative-led government passing its NHS reform bill, against mass opposition from both the public and the medical profession, and despite its refusal to publish the results of a report into the risks of its plan. Britain's National Health Service will now go the way of British Rail, its logo remaining as a kitemark for a US-style system of private healthcare firms; something even Margaret Thatcher didn't dare to do:
"Entitlement to free health services in England will be curtailed by the Health and Social Care Bill currently before parliament. The bill sets out a new statutory framework that would abolish the duty of primary care trusts (PCTs) to secure health services for everyone living in a defined geographical area. New clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) will arrange provision of fewer government funded health services and determine the scope of these services independently of the secretary of state for health. They may delegate this decision to commercial companies. The bill also provides for health services to be arranged by local authorities, with provision for new charging powers for services currently provided free through the NHS (clauses 1, 12, 13, 17, and 49), and it will give the secretary of state an extraordinary power to exclude people from the health service. Taken together the measures would facilitate the transition from tax financed healthcare to the mixed financing model of the United States. We provide an analysis of the key legal reforms that will govern policy development and implementation if the bill is enacted."
Charlie Stross has a characteristically sobering assessment of the Litvinenko assassination:
Anyway, to the point: this wasn't simply an assassination. There are any number of poisons out there that would do the job painfully well but much more rapidly, and without the same scope for a diplomatic incident. Likewise, a bullet to the back of the head would have worked just as well (as witness the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya).
What this is, is a warning: "we have the capability to detonate a dirty bomb in central London any time we feel like it, so don't fuck with us". (Just take Polonium and add a little TNT.)
Given that Litvinenko was promoting a book that asserted FSB agents blew up two apartment buildings in Moscow and pointed the finger at Chechen rebels in order to justify Putin's subsequent war on Chechnya, one possibility that must be considered is that elements of the FSB may be responsible — and willing to use radiological terrorism as a tool of foreign affairs. It may well not have been ordered by the Kremlin: all it takes is for Vladimir Putin to mutter "will nobody rid me of this turbulent priest?" over his breakfast one morning, and Shit Happens in a foreign capital thousands of kilometres away. (Or it may be entirely deliberate, merely "plausibly deniable", to use the charming CIA-surplus weasel words for "we did it but you can't prove it".)
And what disturbs me most is that all the other possibilities I've been able to think of are worse ...And as a bonus, here is Charlie's analysis of the Iraq débâcle
Despite all that, despite the Abu Ghraib photographs and the evidence of mass murder of civilians by soldiers, and a thousand daily petty atrocities, it's not immediately obvious that bringing the troops home won't make everything a whole lot worse in the long run, up to a worst-case scenario in which the "failed state" of Iraq turns out to be not so much a "failed state" as a voracious cancer of social breakdown that spreads inexorably to its neighbours, until the entire region is effectively government-free. "Government-free" does not mean some libertarian pipe-dream of a night watchman state and respect for individual liberty: it means that eventually the whole region will come to resemble Afghanistan under the Taliban, with authority — any authority — welcomed as an antidote to blood feud and starvation.
Grim Meathook Realist Jamie Zawinski recently posted a link to an interesting article on the decline of leisure time in America:
The rise of worktime was unexpected. For nearly a hundred years, hours had been declining. When this decline abruptly ended in the late 1940s, it marked the beginning of a new era in worktime. But the change was barely noticed. Equally surprising, but also hardly recognized, has been the deviation from Western Europe. After progressing in tandem for nearly a century, the United States veered off into a trajectory of declining leisure, while in Europe work has been disappearing. Forty years later, the differences are large.
Since 1948, productivity has failed to rise in only five years. The level of productivity of the U.S. worker has more than doubled. In other words, we could now produce our 1948 standard of living (measured in terms of marketed goods and services) in less than half the time it took in that year. We actually could have chosen the four-hour day. Or a working year of six months. Or, every worker in the United Stares could now be taking every other year off from work-with pay. Incredible as it may sound, this is just the simple arithmetic of productivity growth in operation.But between 1948 and the present we did not use any of the productivity dividend to reduce hours. In the first two decades after 1948, productivity grew rapidly, at about 3 percent a year. During that period worktime did not fall appreciably. Annual hours per labor force participant fell only slightly. And on a per-capita (rather than a labor force) basis, they even rose a bit. Since then, productivity growth has been lower, but still positive, averaging just over 1 percent a year. Yet hours have risen steadily for two decades. In 1990, the average American owns and consumes more than twice as much as he or she did in 1948, but also has less free time.Of course, "Western Europe" here means "Inefficient Socialist Europe", and excludes Britain, which would be somewhere between the two extremes of the time-poor Americans frantically running on their hedonic treadmills to keep up with each other and the economically stagnant cheese-eating, wine-drinking José Bové slow-lifers of Europe. As would Australia, which, with its new employment laws, looks set to move closer to the US model. (I wonder how many employees in Howard's Australia will decide not to trade half of their annual leave for more income.)
The decline in American leisure time seems to have resulted from the boom in material prosperity since the end of the war, and the "hedonic treadmill" effect: individual happiness being a function of one's comparative prosperity next to one's peers, rather than one's absolute wellbeing, meaning that luxuries soon became necessities, and as some people were willing to trade more of their leisure time for the chance to accumulate more shiny objects, others found themselves bound to follow, and the few refuseniks found themselves having little choice, because, whilst you can trade earnings for goods, trading them for free time is harder:
With few exceptions, employers (the sellers) don't offer the chance to trade off income gains for a shorter work day or the occasional sabbatical. They just pass on income, in the form of annual pay raises or bonuses, or, if granting increased vacation or personal days, usually do so unilaterally. Employees rarely have the chance to exercise an actual choice about how they will spend their productivity dividend. The closest substitute for a "market in leisure" is the travel and other leisure industries that advertise products to occupy, our free time. But this indirect effect has been weak, as consumers crowd increasingly expensive leisure spending into smaller periods of time.In economic terms, this feedback loop has been good for investors, making the United States a world leader in productivity. In social terms, there has been a heavy toll, with stress, family breakdown, and children brought up by their PlayStations whilst their harried parents work full time and come home too stressed and exhausted for any meaningful interaction:
Sleep has become another casualty of modern life. According to sleep researchers, studies point to a "sleep deficit" among Americans, a majority of whom are currently getting between 60 and 90 minutes less a night than they should for optimum health and performance. The number of people showing up at sleep disorder clinics with serious problems has skyrocketed in the last decade. Shiftwork, long working hours, the growth of a global economy (with its attendant continent-hopping and twenty-four-hour business culture), and the accelerating pace of life have all contributed to sleep deprivation. If you need an alarm clock, the experts warn, you're probably sleeping too little.
Half the population now says they have too little time for their families. The problem is particularly acute for women: in one study, half of all employed mothers reported it caused either "a lot" or an "extreme" level of stress. The same proportion feel that "when I'm at home I try to make up to my family for being away at work, and as a result I rarely have any time for myself." This stress has placed tremendous burdens on marriages. Two-earner couples have less time together, which researchers have found reduces the happiness and satisfaction of a marriage. These couples often just don't have enough time to talk to each other. And growing numbers of husbands and wives are like ships passing in the night, working sequential schedules to manage their child care.
Even when parents are at home, overwork may leave them with limited time, attention, or energy for their children. One working parent noted, "My child has severe emotional problems because I am too tired to listen to him. It is not quality time; it's bad quantity time that's destroying my family." Economist Victor Fuchs has found that between 1960 and 1986, the time parents actually had available to be with children fell ten hours a week for whites and twelve for blacks. Hewlett links the "parenting deficit" to a variety of problems plaguing the country's youth: poor performance in school, mental problems, drug and alcohol use, and teen suicide.Thank God that America has a world-class pharmaceutical industry to provide treatments for the numerous effects of such a lifestyle.
Intense competition in the global fishing industry has produced some ruthless efficiencies, such as the Chinese zombie ships. Disintegrating, abandoned pirate vessels off the coast of West Africa are being repurposed into clandestine fishing vessels; patched up just enough to remain more or less afloat, the ships never see a port, with crews, supplies and catches being transferred at sea. The economic desperation of those who work on them means that workers often remain onboard for years, and don't kick up a fuss over things such as safety standards, translating into further efficiencies. This is what streamlining looks like in the grim meathook present:
Here's the thing - these ships seldom, or ever, visit a port. They're re-supplied, refuelled, re-crewed and transhipped (unloaded) at sea. The owners and crews don't seem to do any basic maintenance, apart from keeping the engine and winches running. There's no glass in the portholes, and the masts are a mess of useless wiring. These floating deathtraps don't carry any proper safety gear - on one boat, I saw the half-barrel case of an inflatable liferaft being used to store a net.
Back on the Esperanza, we try to put together what we'd witnessed. When asked what it was like 'out there', we answer 'grim'. I wondered how the fishing company could convince these men to spend time living on such dangerous ships, half around the world from their loved ones. Do their families know where they were? These trawlers might be engaged in illegal fishing activities, stealing fish from the countries of West Africa, but it seems that the fishermen themselves are just pawns of some brutal corporate policy, where human life is cheap, and profits take priority.
This afternoon, I saw the Film Festival screening of Dead Creatures. This is basically a British kitchen-sink social-realist zombie film; in it, zombies are just ordinary people like us, with two exceptions: they have an insatiable craving for human flesh and, over the course of a year or so, their bodies start to decay; their condition is the product of some contagious disease, spread by attacks from other zombies. Other than that, they are fully lucid and aware of their predicament, living for the moment, adjusting to killing to survive, and clutching onto futile hope until the end. The film follows a colony of zombiefied women, as well as a vigilante zombie hunter, and shows all stages of the process: a naïve newly-infected recruit adjusting to the realities of their new life, another late-stage victim, delirious and physically decaying, and between that, others rationalising their predatory habits, agonising about the loss of their futures and lives, and coping with the onset of decay. It borrows heavily from the British kitchen-sink tradition: it's set amidst the social decay of working-class London, and the system is oblivious and uncaring; even the vigilantes who hunt zombies do so for selfish reasons rather than out of idealism.
Dead Creatures was made in 2001, before Danny Boyle's more apocalyptic brit-zombie flick 28 Days Later, and, in some ways, is an excellent horror movie. It uses little in the way of special effects (some very convincing prosthetic makeup, latex models of dismembered limbs and the obligatory cool custom weapon, a zombie-killing bolt gun), but its strength is in capturing the despair and futility of those afflicted; of showing the inevitable end, the countless acts of murder committed in the interim to survive to reach it, and then the journey of one newly afflicted. The reality depicted is grim and affecting; one really empathises with the characters, in a way that goes beyond feeling the usual rollercoaster ride of tension and release, and comes out just about ready to donate to a charity to help ease the zombie plight. One could say that this is a horror film for Guardian readers.
The bus from Byron Bay to Brisbane passed through the Tweed Heads-Coolangatta-Surfers Paradise-Gold Coast Recreational Axis, a scary and depressing place if there is one. Miles and miles of pastel-coloured high-rise hotels, luxury-apartment buildings and toy monorails, filing cabinets for self-contained family-units on holiday, enjoying recreation without the inconvenience of unwelcome mixing with strangers; it is a vast monument to leisure on an industrial scale. Even the office buildings are salmon-pink or mango-orange, with matching tubular metal balconies; between this, the locals flitted about, bronzed and godlike, in their convertible cars.
The world is going to hell; aggressive, violent macho hawks are in charge like not for a long time, and there's no escape; everyone gets the bad karma, one way or another.
No one is preaching peace. No one striving for genuine camaraderie or balance or compromise. And too few of us seem willing to believe that 9/11 has mutated into a brutish hollow excuse for the Bush administration to perpetuate a war for oil and to proclaim new enemies and to chip away at the Constitution and your civil liberties in the name of increased federal control and fewer dissenting voices.