Sunday, 25 January 2009

Cynicism 101 - Even Easier Than Hope for Beginners

Okay, well I suppose it’s time to confess why I haven’t written about Obama’s inauguration, despite a self-confessed obsession with politics and current affairs.

It’s simply that I feel no one really needs a naysayer at this point, especially as we have Fox News still spreading fear and hate in a way that only they (and many ultra religious types) can.

Am I happy he got elected? You bet. It was exhilarating to be in New York when it happened. A night for hope, naturally. Was I thrilled to watch the inauguration on tv? Of course, even if I knew that the musicians were miming – I have some experience of live cello sounds and that microphone was waaaaaay too far away.

Do I think anything will change? Well, let’s break this answer down. Yes and no. The window dressing in one of humanity’s biggest department stores will look much more appealing for the next 8 years, hopefully. Closing Gitmo is already a fine example of doing the right thing, sending the right message. I applaud it.

Will anything of substance change? Nope. And here’s why. We’ve ceded control of all the mechanisms by which we change society to other powers, namely that of the market and private industry. The same market forces that have failed so dramatically over the last few months.

Will Obama nationalise a bank, or the car industry or transport? Nope. No more than Gordon Brown will. Will he (we) bail them out, continually? Yep. I’d like to pose a question at this point: can anyone name a private finance initiative in the UK that was actually completed successfully with private money? There must be some? One? Here’s an article I read a while ago: … if you don’t have time to read it, here’s the conclusion:

"PFI is an expensive way of financing and delivering public services that may, where public expenditure is constrained, lead to cuts in public services and/or tax rises. In contrast, we suggest that the chief beneficiaries are the providers of finance and some, but not necessarily all of the private sector service providers rather than the public sector."

It happened with Wembley, it happened with the Channel Tunnel, hospitals, the road and rail network, and boy-oh-fucking boy is it going to happen with the disastrous money pit that will be our risible attempt at staging the Olympics.

Put simply, there’s nothing any government can do without private investment, because the war for the middle ground of politics is fought in the everyman’s land of low taxes and small government. No one will raise taxes for the masses or take on the expensive responsibility of actually running anything.

And now is when massive things need changing. Obama couldn’t achieve it in 80 years, let alone 8. Do we need those dramatic changes, yes. Will we vote for them? No. Do we want alternative energy initiatives? Absolutely. Will we have used every last drop of oil before we actually vote for it? Absolutely. Especially now there’s a recession and we’re all watching the pennies. Organic free range chicken anyone?

The recent global financial crisis (which, by the way, they call a “crisis” in America, but in quaint-old–tabloid-moron Britain we insist on calling the “Credit Crunch”…. like it’s a character in a Mr Men book) is firm proof if any were needed, that no one is actually in charge of anything.

This Blair/Brown government made the Bank of England independent, established the Financial Services Authority (a body which makes Myra Hindley look like a good baby sitter), and has quite blithely taken credit for the boom years without knowing what the fuck was going on. The same is true of Bush. They encouraged the system that has failed so drastically. We all know all this. I know I sound like a stuck record (for younger readers, a record was a thing that music came on and meant something to own) but these things have been bugging me amidst the euphoria of the last week.

Will Obama effect a radical re-ordering world affairs? Nope. Because he cannot implement the changes necessary, because there is no functioning alternative to free (and by free I mean wildly out of control) market economics. The steady growth all governments long for is an unsustainable myth (especially when our trade laws don’t allow third world countries to develop into viable competitors - but we still insist on ironically referring to them as “developing nations”). The best any future government can do is to manage a planet in decline. Like a chief executive officer winding up the affairs of a bankrupt company, these are the last days of the world as we knew it. Even now a non-existent god is cashing in his last shares, collecting his bonus for fucking things up spectacularly, and heading towards his next position as consultant for the parallel universe just over the event horizon.

When South Korea – among others - is buying up tracts of land in other countries (Madagascar and Tanzania, as well as parts of South America) with which to feed its own population, you get an idea of how much trouble the world is in. But that doesn’t make the front pages, naturally.

You want to scare yourself? Forget global warming and the countless wars raging round the world… go read about Peak Oil. That’s the thing that will define all government policy for the next 20 years. Think Gazprom only has an issue with Ukraine not paying? Wait a while, we’ve run out of North Sea gas, it’s all coming from the Middle East and Russia. Both fantastic suppliers to be quite literally bent over a barrel by.

Will it be nice to have an intelligent, literate, erudite man in the White House? It’ll be lovely. Will it make me feel better about the state of international affairs, as the world descends into fuel and water wars? Nope. Not one bit. Iran has its own agenda, Israel could give a fuck about world opinion, the UN is the lamest of all lame ducks. More people were listening to my goldfish than to Ban Ki-moon over Gaza. And I don’t even have a goldfish, that’s how fucking impotent the UN is.

This is why I haven’t written about Obama. I will be following his first hundred days with enthusiasm, wishing the best for him and for us. I hope he proves me wrong. I suspect Gordon Brown will be long gone before Obama’s potential second term, probably ousted by moronic voters who think a) that they can play a part in democracy and b) that anything changes when the figureheads of government are shuffled like so many old playing cards, the faces worn thin and indistinguishable. This wouldn’t be me if I didn’t work in playing cards somewhere, right?

I hope I’m wrong. If god existed I would pray to him/her to be so very wrong that when Obama leads us all to the promised land, I will offer myself to be cooked and eaten in a ceremonial meal of contrition, as a sign to all future party-poopers. McRae-fish and rocket sandwiches?

The Italian philosopher, thinker and political theorist Antonio Gramsci (whisper it, a Marxist) called for “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”, and that is for years how I have chosen to live. It’s how I live now. But alas I was christened Jeremy, a derivation from Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet of doom. I guess you can change your name but not your nature.

And that, in a word, a long, dull, tediously predictable Tompinion… is how I feel not so much about Obama, but the world problems he has inherited, and how much I suspect will actually change. And all this on a weekend when Man Utd beat Tottenham. Imagine how I’d have been if we’d lost.

But it’s Sunday. I hate Sundays. Maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow. Everyone feels better on Mondays, right?


  1. Great piece you've written Tom, pretty much how many of us see things now. I think the world is mainly thankful that Bush is no longer in charge, thankful that Obama has all the good qualities that we hopefully can trust in a leader of a very powerful country. The knowledge that we know it won't be long before many might not agree with his policies but ones he will have to enforce to turn the US around and start the long journey out of economic disaster. Tough times are ahead and he'll maybe not shine so bright in the public's eye but tough measures have to be taken. Brown isn't in it for popularity and he sure as hell isn't popular but he is a man I trust even though he's pissed me off a few times, I had to blame someone for my redundancy;-) Gordon Brown is of the same mold as our other famous son of Kirkcaldy, Adam Smith, the great economist (Wealth of Nations)
    he has made mistakes but he isn't a bullshitter, we won't like what he says or what he does to get this country back on its feet but the thought of the UK's Bushite David Cameron who is all talk and nae action being in power scares the shit out of me.
    Obama/Brown, I think thats the way forward for both countries and in turn hopefully for the rest of the world. Seems Obama's first call to another leader since the inaugaration was to Brown. See article below.
    Israel is no better than the terrorists out there. BBC should be ashamed of themselves for trying to be politically correct, its about human lives and helping the folk of Gaza rebuild, they have lost all perspective of whats decent. another thing, I think they should shoot that sodden b%%tard Sir Fred Goodwin , ex boss of RBS, lets hope the government strip him of his title and I'm glad they are investigating him and others who have helped sink what used to be a respectable bank.

  2. Yeah, but you'll get some legwarmers, right?

  3. Interesting blog Tom, nice to read somewhere the comments that people are quietly muttering in corners, afraid of the public lambasting any obama-doubters receive at the moment. I hope you're wrong, i hope i'm wrong, i suspect we won't be. I don't think Brown will be around for long (and from the way he's sold us out to a non-democratic european old boys club he doesn't deserve to be) but i don't think it'll make a blind bit of difference.
    P.S. i've done a bit of digging and can't find any PFI projects that have actually delivered within the original time and budget. Not one. Open to correction anyone?
    P.P.S. How about a wager, the olympics cost less to deliver than the NHS IT programme?

  4. I concur with all you have written tom, but can i drop in just a glimmer of optimistic thinking....maybe, just maybe, instead of the fuel crisis creating yet another reason to go to war it may force the development and implementation of renewable engery solutions (hopefully not of the kind that sucks up too much food farming land i.e biofuel)...even if, dare i say it, the will is underpinned by economic gain.

  5. I live there too.

    "Tomponion" is a good word; it rhymes with "champignon" which is also good to eat, even if deadly sometimes, but I know they rhyme only for me because French and English tend to play a strange symphony in my head.

    I'm pretty sure I won't feel better tomorrow.


  6. Not quite the same sentiment, but just as amusing x

  7. Lets me get this straight are a Manky Utd fan?!....And I thought you were a man of taste ;-)....At least when we (Forest) thrash the sheep at out place, we can welcome your lot to sunny Nottingham.....and a very good post by the way, we'll get the real insight into Obama once the hysteria dies down. I'd love to know how the conversation between Obama and Bush went on inauguration day!

  8. aha! I knew you would have something to say about it.

    it does all boil down to what we'll vote for - until the majority of us allow issues other than self/family-interest to influence our decisions, including our voting, everything will continue to fall apart.

    And if, like the prophet Jeremiah, you are condemning greed and injustice, maybe after all you should be proud of the name!

  9. My response to Tom's blog:

    Mr/Mrs Hammer meets Mr/Mrs Nail with an accompanying BANG (I decided to offer gender options to escape any possible charge of sexism).

    As a side note, I was staggered by the optimism of one previous poster who suggested that wars over resources might bring about efforts to invest in alternative energy sources. If you are investing time and money in military action, where will the money or political motivation for alternative energy investments come from? If you've invested time, money and human lives in acquiring fossil fuels are you likely give them up easily? Even if you do, why not just buy them elsewhere? Don't really have the money? Well, you can always cut-back on non-essentials like public spending, international aid, etc. If you don't have the infrastructure to implement widespread use of alternative energy supplies, how can these technologies be used to deal with an immediate energy short-fall? Just a few thoughts.

    As for Peak Oil, George asks the right questions and gets terrifying answers:

  10. > and boy-oh-fucking boy is it going to
    > happen with the disastrous money pit that
    > will be our risible attempt at staging the
    > Olympics.

    Now in Vancouver - with its equally risible Olympic plans - private finance is pulling out and leaving the tax payer on the hook. Why oh why oh why oh why oh.....

    The good news is that there are now two Forest fans on here! Derby and ManYoo might as well give up as fate decrees that (Hillsboro +20) it's bound to be a Forest V Liverpool semi.

  11. so...what else is new

  12. "Even now a non-existent god is cashing in his last shares, collecting his bonus for fucking things up spectacularly, and heading towards his next position as consultant for the parallel universe just over the event horizon."

    Now there's a phrase (among many others that caused me to laugh and make my flatmate think I'm officially barking) that strikes a chord. We are all pretty fucked really, aren't we. I'm torn between popping out a small army of Good Children to fight against the tide of vacous, morbidly obese, text speaking offspring that will only send us deeper into the abyss, and just saying "fuck it" and not bringing any poor souls into this world.

    Still, while there's good cake, good cider and good music, I refuse to be entirely negative. ;o)

  13. Blimey, a Tom McRae blog with two Forest fans on it! Nice to meet you :-)

  14. To Anonymous poster commenting on my previous post: can i clarify something for you...please note that i said INSTEAD of the fuel crisis creating anotther reason to go to war, not lets go to war to sort out the fuel crisis problem. The adverb was placed there for a reason...hope that clears things up...i accept that few will join my optimism.

  15. I like change and good people and being able to do stuff. But there's a limit to what even a sane man can do.

    We all fill posts as well as being indys.
    And no-one is entirely in charge in this world. Don't credit it? Obama is a smoker, right. And anyone who sticks those weeds in his mouth and puts up with bringing such a carcinogenic package and spraying it all over his property just to satisfy a little craving for some significantly less harmful nocotine is, to some extent a victim of culture and conventionality. Before we know it someone at the back will be saying he's just another C****on or whatever.

    I wish him well, but whatever he does, thanks for the effort and carry hope. But what hits us hits him too, and we don't want to get into negatives...

  16. I am sending you a goldfish called Ban Ki-moon. Treat him kindly.

  17. Fantastic post Tom, I share your pessimism about the likelihood of anything to truly change 'the system', and as much as I would would love a Marxist/Socialist system in place, it isn't going to happen, because, as you rightly pointed out, it's unelectable.

    However, even though the whole system isn't being uprooted, I am still largely opttimistic and excited about Obama. As a socialist, if I measured political satisfaction on the implementation of that system, I think I would live through my lifetime without ever being happy.

    However, whilst the system wont be changed, efforts can be made to at least improve the system, so it isn't as corrupt, and so that whilst it obviously always benefits big business etc, it becomes more beneficial to the public at the same time, and that these benefits are then distributed more equally amongst society. I eagerly await Barack's health insurance reforms to assess how well he does this...

    Also, that one of Obama's first moves was to allow stem/embryo research is magnificent - not only in its own right, but also as a sign that this president is at least going to take science (and ergo global warming) a lot more seriously than the last.

  18. My apologies to the Anonymous poster.

    There is a fundamental problem of time-scale. A shiney new energy system will take decades to implement. Unfortunately the resource crunch will hit hard and fast. Maybe if we move to an emergency footing right now (or to put it another way "Pack for the crash") things won't be as brutal. Unfortunately that's not how things work. Governments, the very organizations that are meant to think long-term, are increasingly acting for the short-term interest.


  20. Peak oil time depends on the price - so as oil is cheap at the moment (low demand, so no reason to prospect in difficult areas) peak oil will happen that much sooner... even more scary. Cue loads more windmills in hilly places, subsidised by public money.

    The US has always backed Israel; tackling that situation is probably beyond any President, even a shiny, brand new one.
    Best of luck, Obama, you have my sympathy as well as my hope.

    Music becomes yet more important in difficult times - please keep writing songs, Tom, and getting out there and performing them.
    You're on a winner with the Hotel Cafe as well as your own shows, both excellent and (hopefully) we can see you out there twice as often. Now that's worth spending money on petrol for - you can share my car anytime ;-)

  21. Reply to second anonymous comment down the page:
    I don't know. Why don't you ask Schwarzenegger those questions?

    All they need is the waiver. What a pesky memorandum... truly.

  22. Tom McRae, a United fan. The world really has gone to shit.


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