Flânerie – and the drumbeats of war again?

One of the joys of having control of my time is to become a flâneur. I have always been a generalist at heart, even when I specialised for work. The world is full of an endless array of interesting stuff for an inquisitive ermine to stick his snout into, and learn. I was recently trying to make a cheap Chinese humidity sensor work, and lost myself for a few hours in the curious ways of Cuban cigars and learning why you need a humidor, why they are made of Spanish cedar. I have no expectation of ever smoking, never mind Cuban cigars, but I learned about humidity control and how I can calibrate my cheap and nasty sensor using saturated salt solution.

And now, if I want to chase a knowledge rathole I can, without the feeling in the back of my mind that I should be learning about something useful. What is useful, anyway? The previous experiments with humidity sensors improved our hatching rate on eggs to about 75% from 50% – sometimes intellectual ratholes can be useful in some unrelated field.

Goslings. Being waterfowl they expect to hatch from eggs in a more humid environment than chickens. Their aggressive heart of darkness begins to show later on...
Goslings. Being waterfowl they expect to hatch from eggs in a more humid environment than chickens. Their aggressive heart of darkness begins to show later on…

People sell fertile eggs and send them through the post at about £2 a throw, so improving the hit rate was direct gain to the bottom line.

With curiosity in mind I walked into town to take some library books back, and observe, in an active but detached way. That’s flâneur after Baudelaire, who described him as “gentleman stroller of city streets”. I learned something about Britain today. It was a marvellous day, sunny but not too hot. It started well with this tree

maybe it's just be that suspects a face in this tree bark
maybe it’s just me that suspects a face in this tree bark

before I entered the town. Too often when I go to the High Street I find the experience alienating, the clamour of all the advertising trying to sell me something right now. It’s attempting to create a perceived need, to which of course some particular product or service is the solution.

There are signs the economy is improving. For starters there isn’t such a rash of empty shops as there once was. Indeed, I didn’t see any, though the improvement wasn’t that great. For instance, colour me surprised that BetFred are offering you these hideous machines to help you basically flush your money way.

self-service money flushing terminals, whatever will they think of next?
self-service money flushing terminals, whatever will they think of next?

Self-service, apparently, presumably so you don’t have to look someone in the eyes as you take the shaft? So much nicer that way, I say. It puzzles me why you have to walk into town to do this job – if you simply want to flush some money away most homes these days have a toilet that will do the job perfectly adequately, and if you want the thrill of the chase I’m sure that there are online places that will debit your credit card for a suitable fee 😉

I’ve lived in Ipswich for nearly a quarter of a century, but never noticed this massive advertisement dating from the 1930s, though presumably I’ve seen it numerous times

Symonds chemists from the 1930s. Their paint was good, to stand up to 80 years of the British weather so well
Symonds for Kodaks. They were chemists from the 1930s. Their paint was good, to stand up to 80 years of the British weather so well

Somehow I don’t think that flâneurs in 2090 will be wondering what just essentials or Chinese herbal medicines were. I’m left wondering if there are planning rules now that limit shop signage to the ground floor, or if this is the invisible hand of the market. After all, it took 25 years and stopping work for me to lift my gaze, maybe first-floor and up advertising isn’t economically viable.

I also recorded the dire sound of people sitting in a darkened room flushing their money away on a different kind of fleece-the-punter contraption – the amusements, which seem to be blighting the High Streets in vast numbers.

Here I ran into one of the banes of the street photographer’s trade – the punk who doesn’t understand what public means. The proprietor/franchise holder objected to pictures being taken of the back door of this place from which this noise was emanating.

[audio: 130827-1226_arcade-money_lost.mp3]

Well, perhaps since it’s air conditioned you don’t need to leave the back door open, and that wouldn’t attract inquisitive ears to find out what the racket is all about 😉 However, since you did leave this door open

the sounds of good monye being thrown after bad emanating from this door
the sounds of good money being thrown after bad emanating from this door.

I’m perfectly within my rights to photograph it, and indeed almost anything and anyone from a public place in Britain. Being followed for a few hundred yards and harangued for intimidating her customers by taking pictures of them and accused of breaking the law was starting to piss me off. I can be charged with crimes against photography, it’s a shit picture, but it didn’t harass her or her customers because there’s nobody in the photograph 😉 It was a record shot of where the noise was coming from.

She was jabbering on about calling the cops so I inquired what particular crime she was alleging had happened, and invited her to go call the coppers if she wanted, but in the meantime I’d be on my way. For some strange reason she didn’t bother to call the cops. However, it is nice to know that the franchisee/proprietor at least feels a little bit bad about what they do, which is basically making a living out of the human weaknesses of their customers. If you open a betting shop or slot machine emporium then some people will occasionally going to say you’re exploiting people. Just like some people say fast food joints serve crap food.If you don’t want to feel bad about basically ripping people off, then here’s an idea. Stop ripping people off?

More foreign wars seem to be imminent

So minor altercations aside a pleasant time was had. Then I get back home and find apparently ‘The West’ has decided to go kick the shit out of Syria. All of a sudden it gets to feel like groundhog day. We get to see this fella again, delivering the usual message – Weapons of Mass Destruction. Must. Kick. Ass.

Hang on, Tone, how did this go last time?
Hang on, Tone, how did this go last time?

saying Go get ’em, boys, and I start to think to myself, this is the UN Middle East Peace envoy? Let’s just remind ourselves of how that went last time, eh, Tone? You were so enamoured with Dubya that you dreamed up some weapons of mass destruction to go in and get ’em. Okay, things can only get better – at least there is evidence of WMD being used, and at least circumstantial evidence that it was Assad. Let’s hear it from Tone himself

In Syria, we know what is happening. We know it is wrong to let it happen. But leave aside any moral argument and just think of our interests for a moment. Syria, disintegrated, divided in blood, the nations around it destabilised, waves of terrorism rolling over the population of the region; Assad in power in the richest part of the country; Iran, with Russia’s support, ascendant; a bitter sectarian fury running the Syrian eastern hinterland — and us, apparently impotent. I hear people talking as if there was nothing we could do: the Syrian defence systems are too powerful, the issues too complex, and in any event, why take sides since they’re all as bad as each other?

But others are taking sides. They’re not terrified of the prospect of intervention. They’re intervening. To support an assault on civilians not seen since the dark days of Saddam.

It is time we took a side: the side of the people who want what we want; who see our societies for all their faults as something to admire; who know that they should not be faced with a choice between tyranny and theocracy. I detest the implicit notion behind so much of our commentary — that the Arabs or even worse, the people of Islam are unable to understand what a free society looks like, that they can’t be trusted with something so modern as a polity where religion is in its proper place. It isn’t true. What is true is that there is a life-and-death struggle going on about the future of Islam and the attempt by extreme ideologues to create a political Islam at odds both with the open-minded tradition of Islam and the modern world.

While I’m uncomfortable with the idea of charging in and telling people what to do, all that is Tone at his silvery-tongued best, it’s here where I really part company with him

In this struggle, we should not be neutral. From the threat of the Iranian regime to the pulverising of Syria to the pains of the Egyptian revolution, from Libya to Tunisia, in Africa, Central Asia and the Far East, wherever this extremism is destroying the lives of innocent people, we should be at their side and on it.

The evidence from Iraq indicates we just aren’t powerful enough of clever enough to improve things for those innocent people. That roll-call of 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths shows it didn’t work there. Intervention did work in Bosnia and in Sierra Leone – well done Tone. It hasn’t worked in anywhere big. I suppose Libya counts as some sort of success because the oil is flowing again and Gaddafi is pushing up daisies which is why Cameron is all gung-ho. But it’s been a long time since the Pax Britannia was non-negotiable.

Now Assad is a sonofabitch, but the trouble with Syria is okay so you do the whole no-fly zone and bomb the shit out some of it, but exactly how is this going to make things better? The whole place seems to be running with people who have some sort of reason to hate each other. After all, in Eye-rack after 10 years of war it seems like 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed. So maybe, Tone, and Cameron, and all the others who are gung-ho, you should just take five and ask yourselves the simple questions.

Have we got the resources and will for overwhelming force – which I would say is no. Let’s face it, Cameron preferred to wind down the Navy’s strike capability rather than ask the electorate to be taxed more. The whole point of an aircraft carrier is to, well carry aircraft maybe? So deciding we won’t bother shows where our priorities lie.

If we go in half-assed, is it likely that we will improve the situation in the long run, given that we can’t really see any good guys in this conflict, simply different sorts of bad guys?

In the meantime, perhaps it’s time to remember the Hippocratic Oath

First, do no harm

At least it was possible to understand why Iraq was invaded. There’s oil there. There was oil in Libya.  Just don’t try and pretend to us again that it’s for humanitarian reasons. To be honest Cameron and  Tone don’t give a shit about chemical weapons, other than as a pretext to get into the fight. Is it better to stop another 1300 people being gassed by starting another Iraq war in Syria that will top 100,000 civilians? I’m not so sure the end justifies the means, sometimes there is no good answer and shit is going to go down regardless. You can have more shit, but not no shit. As Cameron very well knows, shit happens. This is a rerun of The Great Game, the players are different 100 years on but it’s the same sort of thing. This isn’t about humanitarian anything, it’s about power.

And Britain is immeasurably less powerful relative to the rest of the world now than it was 100 years ago. It didn’t actually happen on Tone’s watch, but we went bust since taking part in Dubya’s misadventures in Iraq. We have run down our military because we couldn’t afford it. I don’t see how we can ask the British military to fight with what they haven’t got. If we want to go and kick some ass in Syria on anywhere else, it will mean making economies at home. Okay, at least Parliament will be recalled, but it appears that the decision has already been taken.

If you take the Wikipedia entry about the Great Game and swap British-Russian rivalry  for Western/Russian rivalry, and maybe throw in Chinese interests in there somewhere we are following the same path once again. It’s kinda scary that next year will be the 100th anniversary of the First World War, and here I get the feeling the history is perhaps not repeating itself, but it is rhyming…

Yes, looking at it from the personal finance angle war is a great opportunity to buy into the stock market as everybody is scared shitless. But I am human enough that I’d very much rather do without the opportunity if it sees fewer of my fellow humans slain in the crossfire of another Great Game. It took thirty years,  two world wars and a lot of shit to get the various forces into another semi-stable equilibrium the last time the Great Game was played. So for God’s sake, willy-waving macho war-mongers of the West, put a bloody cork in it. And if you can’t, stop lying to us about humanitarian this that and the other. It’s all about power, not humanity. This is not the century of the West. It’s somebody else’s century, We have grown effete and complacent, and we aren’t prepared to put up with the sacrifices that go along with being king of the hill.

In The Decline of the West Oswald Spengler called us out.

A Culture is born in the moment when a great soul awakens out of the proto- spirituality of ever-childish humanity, and detaches itself, a form from the formless, a bounded and mortal thing from the boundless and enduring. It blooms on the soil of an exactly-definable landscape, to which plant-wise it remains bound. It dies when this soul has actualised the full sum of its possibilities in the shape of peoples, languages, dogmas, arts> states, sciences, and reverts into the proto-soul. But its living existence, that sequence of great epochs which define and display the stages of fulfilment, is an inner passionate struggle to maintain the Idea against the powers of Chaos without and the unconscious muttering deep-down within. […]

It was thus that the Classical Civilization rose gigantic, in the Imperial age, with a false semblance of youth and strength and fullness, and robbed the young Arabian Culture of the East of light and air. This – the inward and outward fulfilment, the finality, that awaits every living Culture – is the purport of all the historic ” declines, ” amongst them that decline of the Classical which we know so well and fully, and another decline, entirely comparable to it in course and duration, which will occupy the first centuries of the coming millennium but is heralded already and sensible in and around us today – the decline of the West. Every Culture passes through the age-phases of the individual man. Each has its childhood, youth, manhood and old age. […]

At last, in the grey dawn of Civilization the fire in the Soul dies down. The dwindling powers rise to one more, half-successful, effort of creation, and produce the Classicism that is common to all dying Cultures. The soul thinks once again, and in Romanticism looks back piteously to its childhood; then finally, weary, reluctant, cold, it loses its desire to be, and, as in Imperial Rome, wishes itself out of the overlong daylight and back in the darkness of protomysticism in the womb of the mother in the grave. The spell of a “second religiousness” comes upon it, and Late-Classical man turns to the practice of the cults of Mithras, of Isis, of the Sun – those very cults into which a soul just born in the East has been pouring a new wine of dreams and fears and loneliness.

This is the spell that Cameron, and Tony Blair are trying to breathe life into, wishing themselves out of the overlong daylight.