The weather in England has been frightful, the country seems to be going to the proverbial dogs, and Brexit seems to be gathering a head of steam, but it has been a good week for my particular brand of schadenfreude. Let me count just four of the ways.
First, there were the troubles brought down upon the head of Mark Zuckerberg, and his brainchild, in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Now, it is well known in my social circles that I am deeply prejudiced against Facebook, and I am happy to confirm the fact – but then what is schadenfreude if not discovering the perfect justification for such animus. I have never met Mr. Zuckerberg, or read his book, or seen the movie about his creation, so I have nothing in particular against Mr. Zuckerberg as a person. It is his invention I can’t stand. I hate it because it turns otherwise sane people mad, or at least reduces them to jabbering imbeciles. It adds nothing to the intellectual balance sheet of our existence. It is for most users the electronic equivalent of two neighbours swapping everyday platitudes over the garden fence. Imbecile may be a strong word to use about people engaging in what they would call a perfectly harmless form of entertainment, but how dumb does one have to be not to grasp that Mr. Zuckerberg & Co., who now run an enterprise worth countless of billions of dollars, do not provide this latter-day chewing gum for the mind (a phrase first used about television) for philanthropic or idealistic reasons but for profit. And very profitable it is, too, since the people who use it are also providing the raw material. There is nothing wrong with profit, mind, but when it derives from conning hundreds of millions of gullible people, many of them only functionally literate, let alone illicitly supplying political operators with data for purposes that may be sinister, a company’s success begins to pall. And Facebook in Britain pays nowhere near enough in tax.
Then, after the Facebook scandal, the amazing, ubiquitous and unstoppable Amazon – not the river but the corporate invention of the unctuous Jeff Bezos – found itself on the receiving end of Donald Trump’s scorn for not paying enough tax. Now, I would normally be sight unseen on the side of anyone in an argument with Mr. Trump, but I am happy to make an exception for Bezos. His company destroys retail business by the thousands every week. It may do so because it is effective, but it also does so by exploiting its employees, most of whom earn wages barely above the statutory minimum, and few of whom enjoy any kind of benefits or pensions. I must confess, without further ado, that my wife and I have from time to time, if shamefacedly, availed ourselves of the services provided by Amazon. I will even admit that we find the service excellent. But we use Amazon only after all other options have been exhausted. I think it may be time to start looking a little harder for those alternatives.
Another corporate giant that fell by the wayside, actually plunged over a cliff, was Toys R Us. Having failed to find a white knight to take over the operation of its hundreds of stores in Britain, it went into administration. You may protest that the company was merely a respectable retailer of toys. I would respond by claiming that its pricing was predatory, among a number of other sharp practices, and that like most big American chains, it wiped out local rivals. That may be a fact of business life, but then I remind myself that the company came to prominence peddling the kind of short-lived, readily disposable plastic playthings, that pollute the planet. If this attitude sounds somewhat extreme, I make no apology, because the world is awash in plastic, on sea and land, and time is running out to avert real disasters. It is time to protest by not buying the stuff unless there is no other choice. There is a choice and it is degradable. It is called wood.
The final chortle of the week I happily reserve for Australian cricket, or at least for the misfortunes of some of its star practitioners, who have dominated the news pages for several days, sometimes in tears. I have written about the matter (at what some readers thought was inordinate length) but I did not in previous articles, so much as hint that I enjoyed the spectacle. But I can now come out and say what I really think: it has been, for this writer, and I suspect for a great many cricket-lovers, a come-uppance that was long overdue. Australian ‘sledging’ – or, as an Australian captain once called it, ‘mind disintegration’ – has been going on for some time, travelling at a steady pace from humorous banter towards personal insult – and even beyond that. Other cricketing countries have worked at becoming just as competent in the game’s black arts, but that only goes to show that imitation can also be the lowest form of flattery. The fact is, sledging was something that Australia’s cricketers invented, worked hard to perfect, and came to dominate. When mere boorish behaviour lost its effectiveness as a tactical weapon, the search was on for something more potent. Ball-tampering, as old as cricket itself, made a comeback. One now has to ask, if tampering in turn becomes redundant, what might come next? Something, but I will probably be on Facebook when that day comes.
These are just a selection of my pet hates. There are plenty more where they came from.
Yes, I know the world has more profound issues to confront than greedy geeks and cheating Aussies, but since nobody seems close to resolving the big disasters, some of us must be content to take refuge in minor triumphs.