Thursday, 27 March 2014

Putin and Obama: When they're both bastards you don't have to pick a side.

Ain't no party like a diplomatic party, yo.
Let's clarify a couple of things before we begin. Vladimir Putin is a bastard. He's a gay-bashing, power-hungry, oligarch-funded bastard. Likewise, Barack Obama is a bastard. He's a drone-happy, privacy-invading, Wall Street-funded bastard. We're clear? Good. Because it seems to me certain people have difficulty wrapping their heads around these mutually compatible points. We seem to have this intrinsic need to always pick a side to back, to always label one guy as the "goodie" and the other as the "baddie". When it comes to politics, and particularly foreign politics, we see issues in black and white and never stop to realise the obvious greyness of it all. Because that would probably be too boring for the media. This has been all to evident with regards to the recent crisis in Ukraine. 

The expression "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" springs to mind. There are quite a substantial number of left-leaning people in Europe and here in Ireland who have been bitterly disappointed by Barack Obama's two terms of presidency. Indeed, 2013 is probably Obama's annus horribilis. We've had the revelations of NSA spying, the drone strikes continuing in the Middle-East, the haphazard pursuit of Edward Snowden and the fact that Guantanamo still remains open. He's a giant corporate turd, everyone is very surprised, and we're desperately seeking a new saviour.

Because of this, many of these normally sane, rational people have leapt to Putin's defence after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. I've seen them on threads, on Twitter, on comment boards. They say he's afraid of NATO aggression. They say he's protecting Ethnic Russians from almost certain persecution. They say the toppling of Yanukovich was a neo-nazi coup d'état. They say that 93% of Crimeans voted for joining Russia so their wishes have to be respected. 

Now there is some credence to some of these remarks. NATO are being aggressive and have been for years. They've broken a 1990 promise made to Russia that NATO would not expand eastwards but now, 24 years later, countries like Poland, Czech Republic, Romania and Hungary are all NATO members while Ukraine have applied for membership

There were certain far-right elements involved in the toppling of Yanukovich. The party Svoboda, which has a large presence in the new interim Government (Including providing the current vice Prime Minister Oleksandr Sych) has often been accused of being anti-semitic and fascist. The Right-Sector, which is definitely anti-semitic, played a big role in the clashes with the Birkut and Ukrainian police. But of course, the role of these elements and their significance have been exaggerated by both Putin and the Russian media. 

Then there's that whole Crimea thing. Crimeans probably do want to join Russia. The majority of them are ethnically Russian, they speak the language and the revolution in the West of the country received virtually no support from the region. But that bogus referendum held last week should not be taken seriously. Regardless of whether it violated the Ukrainian constitution, it was too hasty and held in the midst of such tension that its result cannot be accepted. It should have been arranged a few months from now so a proper debate could have formed. 

So Putin and the Russians are not benevolent actors on a crusade to free their fellow countrymen from oppression and despotism. But the hypocritical condemnations from the West are just as appalling. Russia are attempting to exert their dominance over Ukraine. So are they. Just today an IMF bailout package worth between $14bn-$18bn was agreed for Ukraine. We Irish know all to well what that will entail for ordinary Ukrainians, namely austerity, hardship and "liberalisation" of Ukraine's economy (i.e. opening it up for Western Companies to make some serious money). 

Then there's the amazingly barefaced lectures on international law from Western leaders, particularly Obama. The President has "expressed his deep concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law". I mean, it sounds like a bad joke, right? Serial international law transgressor pontificates on the importance of international law. It's like Charles Manson lecturing on the sanctity of life. This is some 1984 shit, man.

The media too are to blame. They castigate Russia Today and other Russian media sources as propaganda tools for Putin and the Kremlin. And they're not wrong. But they too are propaganda tools for The White House. They toe the party line. Very few have pointed out the hypocrisy of Obama's remarks on international law. While the far-right elements of Ukraine's revolution were exaggerated by Russian media, they were whitewashed by Western media. They mightn't define the revolution but they're still worth discussing.

And yet people still feel the urge to choose a horse to back. Just this week in The Irish Times there was this article entitled "If we have to choose a side over Crimea, let it be Russia". This naive and muddled article is symptomatic of what I am talking about, of an affliction affecting many left-leaning people online. Why exactly do we need to pick a side? The stand-off between the US and Russia over Ukraine and Crimea is two power-systems engaging in a game of diplomatic one-upmanship. 

It's not about the importance of Ukraine's democracy or ethnic Russians' right to autonomy. The US has a prolific history of suppressing democracy worldwide when it doesn't work for them (Italy in the 40s, South Vietnam in the 50s, Chile in the 70s and Venezuela in the 00s just to name a few examples). Likewise, Putin does not care a jot for the well-being of Russians in Crimea. It's hard to imagine him waking up in a cold sweat in The Grand Kremlin Palace agonising over the fate of his ethnic brothers. This conflict is being waged for the financiers, the moneymen, the oligarchs and the politicians. Like almost all international conflicts. Neither of them are on our side. They are people in power working for powerful people. 

We're aware of this, or, at least we should be aware of it. And yet we still have to choose a side, we still have to decide who's the least worst, the side responsible for the least grievous crimes. This good-bad narrative is so ingrained in us that we find it hard to shake it off. I don't like to blindly speculate as to why this is the case but, fuck it, this is only a blog so I'm going to. It probably has something to do with TV and movies. There's always a goodie and always a baddie. For every Prince Charming there's always a Wicked Witch; for every Mufasa there's always a Scar; for every Tim Allen in The Santa Clause there's always Tim Allen's annoying ex-wife. And those are movies for kids. This dogma is inculcated into us at an early age. 

This attitude is damaging as it prohibits us from reviewing any alternatives. It's a very broad problem and one which is obviously not exclusive to this particular international crisis. We need to reevaluate how we view people in power. We still, subconsciously if not openly, seem to believe that they work for "us". Propaganda and conditioning from a young age are the causes. But now, in the age of the internet and free information, we need to realise that choosing between politicians is like choosing between chlamydia and syphilis. 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

I'm finding it difficult to care about anything. Does that make me a bad person?

A possible advocate for apathy

"Is it wicked not to care/when they say that you're mistaken/Thinking hopes and lots of dreams that aren't there?" so singeth Glaswegian indie-pop stalwarts Belle & Sebastian. They were onto something with that 1998 composition. Apathy is generally regarded to be one of the great crises of modern youth. Everything's shit and we don't care. The economy's in tatters and we don't care. Politicians are lying parasites and we don't care. Louis Walsh still has a job on TV and we don't care. 

But I would like to extol the the virtues of apathy. Not caring about things may be a very narrow-minded and, indeed, conceited way to approach life but golly it makes things a lot easier. I'm not even talking about political apathy, which is the most popular form of apathy young people are accused of engaging in, I'm discussing more quotidian, everyday apathy. Let me share my own experiences with apathy and you can judge for yourself.

What actually compelled me to write this was yesterday's relative furore surrounding the no-make-up selfie for cancer which was all over Facebook and Twitter. I must admit I found the whole thing rather irksome. 

At first, you had the girls' posting selfies of themselves without make-up to raise awareness for breast cancer charities. An admirable cause though I must admit I wasn't wholly enamoured with the whole concept. "Raising awareness" is a pretty hollow platitude and I just felt it was yet another example of the pseudo-activism, a.k.a feeling-like-you're-doing-something-worthwhile-when-actually-you're-not-doing-much-really, that seems to pervade social media a la Kony 2012. But I resisted the slight urge I had to write a disparaging status/post because I really didn't care. No one was being harmed by this. It may even do some good. I stepped back from the keyboard and decided it was all very harmless.

Then, the whole thing turned into one big slugging match between the selfie posters and the people who sort of agreed with the point I had made above. The problem was that these people turned into sanctimonious pricks as they insisted on posting pictures of them donating money to charity from their phones onto Facebook/Twitter, ostensibly to "raise awareness" in a more efficient way, but really just to show-up the selfish bastards who would only post selfies for cancer.

I thought to myself "Why do you feel the need to show off your donation to the world? Why can you not do it in private? You can still urge others to donate and raise awareness without posting a "LOOK AT ME. I'M A GREAT PERSON" picture. But I did not wish to get involved. It was irrelevant*. 

It happens every week on Facebook/Twitter. I see something I find idiotic or offensive, such as the neknomination craze and the stupid, over-the-top reaction to it, and I take a step back, realise the irrelevancy of it all and ignore it. Another example came just last week. That Fáilte Ireland #IrelandInspires video. It was essentially a piece of masterful propaganda that would have made Josef Goebbels wince and exclaim "Fuck me lads, you've outdone yourselves". It essentially celebrated the bailout and us being a tax haven. And yet it was plastered across my newsfeed for days on end. Yet I bit my lip and didn't say a word. 

It makes life so much easier. Before I would have felt obliged to voice my opinion and/or condemnation like a judgemental prick but now, with the power of apathy, I don't feel the need to. 

This can manifest itself in harmful ways however. Just because one is apathetic does not mean one should lack compassion or love or a sense of justice or any other supposed human emotions. At least it shouldn't in theory. But it actually can. Take last Saturday. I'm in McDonalds here in Krakow and deciding whether to order the new New York Beef Classic Burger or stick to the tried and trusted McRoyal (European version of a quarter pounder. I know, I thought of Jules and Vincent too). 

As I peered at the McDonald's logo hanging above the window-sill I thought of how evil a corporation McDonald's is. I thought of the recent allegations of tax avoidance, I thought of their despicable treatment of their employees worldwide, their egregious record with regards to animal rights and the fact they're basically one of the faces of neo-liberal, globalised, Americanised capitalism. 

But then I thought, "Fuck it. I'm really hungry." And I bought the New York Big Beef Classic. Bad person? Possibly. Satisfied customer. Certainly.

I've noticed this many times before. The apathy which I have ingrained in myself allows me to divorce myself from moral issues which should plague me. It's the same in Penney's. I know about their woeful record with regards to cheap labour in foreign, mostly Asian, countries. I know that that building collapse in Bangladesh which killed 1129 people last year makes clothes for Penney's (Though they did provide a minuscule amount of compensation, unlike some other companies who produced products there). And yet if I need a cheap pair of runners or a bargain t-shirt I will nip into Penney's to buy it. When you spell it out like that it sounds a bit evil, doesn't it? 

I'm not saying I don't find McDonald's or Penney's labour and tax practices repugnant, of course I do, but I can justify using their products in my head with flawed reasoning like "Uh, I'm broke" or "Uh I'm hungry" or "Uh, what difference does one fucking Big Mac make to their global machine anyway?". Of course, this is not a malaise which is exclusive to myself. Everyone's guilty of it. Something to do with Western society, neo-liberalism or something something. 

Though I must admit I still enjoy the relaxation apathy imbues in me. As a result of it, feel I have I become more aware of my own mortality and less concerned with it. One of my favourite TV programmes at the minute is HBO's fantastic, outstanding True Detective. It follows two detectives in Louisiana on a 17 year hunt for a sadistic serial killer.Matthew McConaughey plays Detective Rust Cohle who, while not being totally apathetic, is definitely a bit nihilistic and perhaps a smidgen solipsistic. He's like an existentialist philosopher who's also a hard-drinking homicide detective. Like a mixture of Jimmy McNulty and Sartre. He comes out with some intriguing soliloquies and speeches on subjects as disparate as human life, the universe, love and religion which really help validate my now inherent apathy. 

Take this one for instance - 

"I think human consciousness, is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware, nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself, we are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self; an accretion of sensory, experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody. Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal"

Pretty deep, huh? But it sums up the absurdity of human life and emotions quite well in my eyes. It might not be pretty or altruistic or even very nice but apathy is one surefire way to comfort and tranquility. It asks nothing of you but in return you get so much. I urge you to give it a go. Anything that irks you, or perturbs you or downright disgusts you that you see on the internet or anywhere else for that matter, ignore it. It makes it all so much easier. 

*I realise posting my opinions now is, in a sense, getting involved though I feel it is necessary to do so to illustrate where I'm coming from with regards to apathy.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Having a slow laptop in 2014 is an affront to my human rights

My laptop in happier times

I have a slow laptop. This laptop was purchased in the grand summer of 2011. I know, I know, it was many moons ago. The iphone 5 was just a glimmer in the iphone 4's eye, nobody knew what a selfie was and Facebook hadn't even introduced the cover photo yet. Simpler times, yes. It was a well-behaved laptop at first. It zipped from programme to programme with the finesse of a figure skater and its new Windows 7 features were a sight to behold for someone like me who was more accustomed to the banality of Windows XP.

Alas, it seems our honeymoon period is over. It has been for some time, I think I've just been afraid to admit it. Now it seems more like a geriatric chain-smoker; choking its way interminably through the last few breaths of life. It's not just slow, it's glacial slow. 

Turning on my laptop is like trying to start one of those old-style planes you see with the propeller at the front. It's a whole ordeal. It takes no less than 5 minutes. As soon as I press the On button, the fan makes this terrible wheezing noise as if to say, "Kill me you poor bastard and put me and you out of our misery." I actually feel guilty using it as I know whatever nuts, bolts and chips that comprise its insides must feel like sweatshop workers at this stage. 

Then, when I eventually get to the homescreen and key in my details, it takes another few minutes to load the desktop. It vomits out the various features. First comes the taskbar. Then the desktop image decides to amble along. Then the various programmes begin to dot the screen very languidly, in keeping with custom of course. I then have to wait a couple more minutes as I know if I leap right into Google Chrome or my documents folder, my laptop will shit itself into a comatose state. 

And then when I actually get the chance to use it it performs about as well as Wayne Rooney in an England jersey. The programmes begin to not respond at will. If I have the audacity to click a feature too quickly or the cheek to try and multi-task by opening more than one tab, whaddya know, Google Chrome is not responding. And how do you know things are really fucked? The box informing you that the programme is not responding begins not responding. It's a nightmare. There are certain websites that just really get my laptop's goat as well. My laptop dislikes Youtube especially. It dislikes it so much that it panics and freezes as soon as I key the letter Y into the search bar. It knows. It has a similar distaste for Twitter. 

It hinders me. As a human. As a student. I want to be industrious and dilligent. I want to work on my projects and my college work, honest I do. But when I begin working on such work and the pages take their time to load or the programmes begin to not respond, I naturally cast my eye onto other websites. While that article I need for my essay is taking its time loading I might just pop over to Facebook on another tab for a gander and then, whack, I've wasted half an hour trying to work out if that girl with strict privacy settings who liked my profile picture is in a relationship or not. 

Allied to its inherent slowness, my laptop has another major problem. The shift key is busted. Broken. Caput. It does not work. This means I have to use the on-screen keyboard whenever I need to type a question mark or a dollar symbol or an at symbol or an exclamation mark. This is torrid. The on-screen keyboard is constantly on stand-by. The problem with it is that it is a sadistic bastard and likes nothing more than not responding. I can see it chortle as my screen turns pale and my faces turns red. It's a vicious circle.

They say that our generation has the greatest capacity for learning as we have the internet, an infinite encyclopedia of knowledge, while past generations only had libraries and books. That is true but they didn't have 180 petabytes of porn at their finger tips or notebooks that jammed when they began writing their essay. 

My human rights are in violation, I believe. No really. According to the UN, usually a good authority on the whole human rights malark, broadband access is a basic human right up there with "the right to healthcare, shelter and food". My broadband connection is ok but the medium through which I am to receive this broadband, i.e. my laptop, is a crock of shit. It's like receiving top class medical attention in a garden shed. 

The solution? I'm not sure. I'm broke. Student-broke, not proper broke. I cannot afford a new laptop though. Is there an answer? Will I forever be deprived of quality computing? How long more will I have to endure clunky interface and unresponsive programmes? I am Mandela and this laptop is my Robben Island. It's a long walk to freedom from slow computers.