+The use of the word ‘sadly’ has attracted some comment lately. I think there was an article in the Guardian a while ago which exposed ministers’ disingenuous use of the word when reporting the daily Covid death toll, as if the dying had just, sadly, wandered off on their own accord into the land of perpetual nod. Sadly, I can’t quite remember the piece, but it struck a chord, exposing as it did the social distancing that is taking place between government and people. Sadly, people just die, don’t they—nowt to do wi’us? Happily, one aspect of the over-use of ‘sadly’ is that ‘absolutely’ is no longer the first word one hears when somebody answers a question on the news. Sadly, I suspect that it is possible that ‘absolutely sadly’ could creep in, perhaps even prefaced with ‘so.’
+In the meantime, I am sadly putting more weight on and sadly enjoying two or more glasses of wine more often than not. On that subject, we are told that more people are drinking more alcohol at home—a fact which may, may just may have something to do with pubs, etc., being closed. At the same time it seems that small brewers are facing ruin. Sadly, I can’t get my head round this. We’re drinking more but breweries are closing. I have a strong suspicion that some in the temperance community are trying to capitalise on our current vulnerabilities. Sadly.
+A curious feature of BBC radio news programmes these days is that when potential answers could become interesting, the line cuts out. It happens so often, I am wondering whether the Beeb is using 1G never mind 5G? Or is it just a convenient mute button that Ministers have?
+The Madeline McCann case could be close to resolution if today’s news is anything to go by. I hope so for the parents’ sake. But I have to ask, if the co-operation between the police forces of the UK, Portugal and Germany appeared rather less than effective 13 years (and counting) ago, how will Brexit improve matters? Like Covid-19, some things don’t seem bothered too much by borders, and our potential withdrawal from the European cross-border co-operation that currently exists is unlikely to improve. It should be improved regardless of Brexit, since crime is now so internationalised—but I don’t see Johnson’s government appreciating this fact. Sadly.
+Thanks to Apollo magazine for this news . . . Just as the National Portrait Gallery is embarking on a major, multi-million rebuilding programme, who has the government appointed as one of its new trustees? None other than Chris ‘failing’ Grayling. This does not inspire much confidence that I will be able to visit the NPG in the remainder of my lifetime. What has Grayling got that compels such confidence in him? It is one of life’s mysteries.
+My blog yesterday on the absence of rainfall has been followed by a slight dampening from the heavens. This was in the forecast of course, so I’m not claiming to be as prescient as say, the President of the United States. But on the same day as some drops fell from the sky, up pops a report from Carbon Brief about climate change impacts on the growing issue of water stress for billions of people. Some of which people have governments that possess nuclear weapons. Might there eventually be a risk here? In the meantime, my water butts are very slowly being replenished.
+That quiet but often useful bit of BBC radio output, You and Yours did a story this lunchtime about how easy it is for scammers to use the new government ‘track and trace’ system to rob people. I thought this was quite a big story, but I didn’t hear any more about it later in the news. It seems the track and trace system has all the safeguards which may have been appropriate in 2001, but in 2020 clever tech-savvy criminals have moved on. Already people are being screwed out of millions. I have to say I have little confidence that the track and trace system as now introduced will do anything to assist us, quite the contrary. Malicious reporting (never mind the scammers) will set so many hares running one will have to discount to a great extent the suggestion that the greater populace should place their trust in it. I certainly have decided to have nothing to do with it. But since I’m still following the guidelines on social distancing, etc., why should I have to worry? Surely, we only need to worry about people with the mentality of Dominic Cummings—and such people often stand out in the street, so you can spot them and give them a wide berth. Meanwhile, as Keir Starmer is at last upping the ante a little, Johnson has the brass neck to suggest that Labour is undermining trust in the government’s efforts. Perhaps it’s just as well we live in a country with the world’s second lowest Covid-19 death rate. Hang on a sec . .
+I have to say that sitting out in the garden with a glass of Malbec and maybe a cigar really competes with the attraction of writing a blog. But for how long can one sit in the sun ignoring the absurdities that swill around us like so many sticky invisible muggers, as whatsisname the PM described the enemy we are currently grappling with? I soon expect to hear people in the street telling each other that our society is not fit for purpose, never mind the government. Hang on a second, no, that’s not going to happen.
+I have followed the career of John Bercow a little since leaving the House, generally supporting his reforms of House of Commons routines, but feeling queasy about his self-inflated ego. A Napoleon Complex? But the unjust rejection of his peerage nomination strikes me as being a particularly indefensible act of pettiness. All former Speakers as I recall have been accorded the elevation. His rejection is just another example of an unaccountable establishment signalling its disdain for those who challenge it. Bercow irritated Conservatives beyond endurance with his insistence on parliamentary scrutiny. It is possible that he behaved badly behind the scenes, but since no case has been proven, it appears the Honours Appointments Commission or whatever they call themselves has acted according to the usual British lip service hypocrisy of 'innocent until proven guilty.' Of course, another, simpler explanation of Bercow’s rejection is that he was nominated by the ‘anti-Semitic’ Jeremy Corbyn—no matter of course that Bercow is Jewish. Maybe he’s one of those self-hating Jews? And another explanation is that apostates never garner honours in their old country.
+As I understand it today, MPs have voted to only allow votes within the precincts of the House of Commons. This reflects Rees-Mogg’s determination to restore the historical splendour of Parliament, nay the Mother of Parliaments to its traditional clubby but somewhat shambolic role as ‘cockpit of the nation.’ Nothing will drive the likes of Rees-Mogg into the modern era. But since he’s so fond of the Victorian age, perhaps Thames Water could be called upon to arrange a new version of the Great Stink of 1858 when the smell of sewage in the Thames was so great the Palace of Westminster (great name for a parliament) had to be vacated. Meanwhile, we might ask why it is the government gets to decide on what parliamentary procedures should be rather than parliament itself. Such things should be determined on a free vote. Yes, MPs could have said let’s not do this, but this is a clear example of how our theoretical house of representation is usually merely the tool of the executive.
+It must have been about eight or nine weeks ago when I blogged about the lack of rain. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but we seem to be headed for a severe drought. The Coronavirus seems to have taken our minds off the possibility that there are other shit storms lurking around, some of course the result of climate change. This evening’s BBC news even had a brief mention of water companies asking people not to use hoses. And it’s only the 2nd of June. I have looked at the Environment Agency’s river flow maps as a proxy indicator of how things are going. I recognise that ground water levels after a wet winter may tell a different story, but shouldn’t we be hearing something from the Environment Secretary about this? ONLY JOKING! HAHAHAHA!!!
+Theories (call them what you will) about the spread of Coronavirus have not yet (to my knowledge) mentioned the role of aircraft con-trails. Surely there’s a connection here? And there is. International air travel has to be one of the main suspects for the spread of the virus so quickly around the globe. Now, the absence of those con-trails today is an indicator of the control of the pandemic. So at last, we have a connection, and con-trail theorists (call them what you will) have got something which actually makes sense!
Housing Minister Jenrick, who himself let’s recall flouted the lockdown is obviously a good choice to defend Cummings, as he tried to do on this morning’s Today programme. He did so using the classic attack on the ‘media beast’ which for once isn’t quite so keen on lapping up everything this government spouts. I don’t remember his anger over the ‘media beast’ when it was ripping in to Jeremy Corbyn. Anyway, thinking more about Cummings’ lies, I wonder how far he had to drive before he realised his eyesight had returned to normal? Did he drive say 10 miles and still feel uncertain? Did he have to go 20 miles to be sure? No, it was only after 30 miles that he realised he had 20/20 vision. Which means that for a large part of his journey he was clearly posing a risk to his fellow road users. It’s bad enough that this arrogant and not so bright liar has been part of the SAGE scientific advisory meetings, but what would happen if we were caught in some military crisis? Would he be rubbing shoulders with the Chiefs of Staff?
As Cummings strolled up the grassy knoll somewhere in or around Barnard Castle, oblivious to the presence of other people, how could he possibly have known that he was about to, as they say, cause a car crash on Johnson’s watch? A car crash which is still playing out in slow motion? I feel I may be getting a little too much into details on this unfolding story, which is one of those where the more you hear the more there is to question. For example, we’re told that Cummings drove around 30 miles from Durham to Barnard Castle (in his own words) ‘in around thirty minutes.’ I’ve driven on those roads (on trips to Shildon railway museum) and to do that journey in 30 minutes means that at some point to manage his average journey time of ‘around 30 minutes’ he will have had to break the speed limit. It’s not as if there’s a straight motorway between the two towns. Now of course, ‘around 30 minutes’ could mean 45 minutes—or it could mean 20 minutes—which hardly improves matters. Either way, it’s a curious and dangerous way to ‘test your eyesight.’ The man’s a liar through and through. Michael Gove, defending this form of eyesight test, saying he had done the same himself, has I hope rammed the point home for the public: ‘We think you are too thick to understand all this, just go back to your celebrity culture and endless bake offs. Oh, and we’ll open the shops soon, so just take your mind off how crap we are.’
I found something more pleasurable to do than watch Dominic Cummings’ statement from the garden of No. 10 Downing Street (Who does he think he is? The Prime Minister? He should have done it from his living room like everybody else.) So I only caught a little snatch, and will await for a more reasoned analysis on the morrow. I did hear that he suggested he had to drive a 30-mile round trip to test his eyesight, with his family in tow. If that in itself doesn’t tell you how screwed we are if we are to follow his advice, I don’t know what will. I caught a little bit of the BBC’s post-briefing coverage immediately after, where two tame journo types were asked for their views. One said the questions got a little bit boring, and maybe that was a good thing, i.e. the whole story will fizzle out. The other thought Cummings had done a fantastic job, containing his temper and ‘answering all the questions.’ We will now hear ministers, or whoever the Johnson crowd can dredge up (e.g. ‘Baroness’ Morgan on the PM programme) to repeat the mantra ‘he answered all the questions’ as ever confusing verbiage with meaning. I really hope the great British public learn a lesson from this episode, but I’m not betting on it.
+Is Trump completely bonkers? I guess that will be a question for historians, and specifically historians of psychology. They will certainly have plenty of material to work on. I am prompted to ask the question though by the purely coincidental story of him (22nd May) demanding that places of worship should be reopened, and a story in the same day’s Guardian about a cleric, the Rev. Canon. Rosie Harper questioning why the C of E felt impelled to close down all of its churches because of Coronavirus. Ye of little faith, eh? Weren’t places of worship once seen as sanctuaries, in which believers could find a safe haven? Have they all fallen prey to science, for heaven’s sake? I’m with the Rev. Canon. If having a bit of a mumble in your favourite pew gives comfort, who is to say that that is any worse than listening to the daily Downing Street Party Political Broadcast? Both have equal claims on innocent faith. All backed up by the likes of Trump, so you have an absolute guarantee that this line of thinking is divinely inspired.
+The re-opening of art galleries and museums will be welcome, and with far fewer visitors allowed, they may become much more amenable to grumps like me who prefer to have a whole gallery to myself. But what if you’re in a one-way system of social distancing and want to linger in front of something—or move on quickly? And will social distancing mean anything to the ignorant slobs who just because you choose to gaze upon something from a respectful distance, insist on getting between you and the object so that can practically rub their noses on it? This does happen. Shock.
+An article in the current edition of The Environment (journal of the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management, CIWEM) reveals a new way of tracing Covid-19: it gets into our sewage. Researchers in Utrecht have discovered that the virus, perhaps not unsurprisingly finds its way into our shit. I hope Matt Hancock will make something of this at his next Downing Street Party Political Broadcast, it could lead to a new government target. Volunteers needed!
+I still have a need to write to the Guardian now and then. I like to get things off my chest. Hence the following:
Rebecca Willis accurately examines the cognitive dissonance MPs suffer when it comes to dealing with climate change (The long read, 21st May), which greatly reflects that of the population at large. But other factors play a part. I remember a meeting organised by an energy minister to glean the views of members on a coming energy white paper. MPs representing constituencies with historical energy interests (e.g. oil, coal, nuclear) were well represented. Renewable energy tends not to have a specific geographical base so had no traditional political leverage. Those of us who supported renewables were in the main seen as obsessives more associated with movements such as Climate Camp, as opposed to white coated, highly paid technicians in nuclear power stations, backed by an incestuous lobbying industry. That renewable energy now contributes so much to UK energy supplies is a miracle of sorts, but every step of the way has been a struggle.
The bigger picture so far as MPs are concerned is that they will, by and large wish for a return to the old normality after Covid, since that is the way to get re-elected. The impetus for a ‘new normal’ I think will whither in the face of reality, which is to say that sufficient of the old economy will survive to suffocate any genuine departure from our old habits. That's what the boost in government spending is all about.
+The Chief Medical Officer of England, Prof. Chris Whitty in this morning’s paper is quoted as saying “All cause mortality has come down at the same time as the Covid deaths have come down and it is now at roughly the rate it is in an average winter. So we are essentially having a winter in terms of mortality.” Was this meant to be reassuring? I’m sure the government will be reassured that it can peddle the message that things are now just ‘average.’ I’m not at all sure I have confidence in Whitty any more. Mid May is not normally considered part of winter. Maybe that’s what he was saying, but perhaps his words were taken out of context. Still, it leaves me with no choice but to take his advice on beer bottle labels to limit alcohol consumption to just 14 units a week with a pinch of salt.
Show trials aren’t dead yet. The extraordinary prosecution (and it does seem to be extraordinary, given how few such prosecutions there are) of Craig Murray for alleged contempt of court in Scotland’s recent court case involving Alex Salmond appears on the face of it to be a blatant abuse of power by judicial authorities against an individual exercising the right to free, albeit somewhat constrained free speech (as is the case with reporting on any on-going trial). Regardless of my personal views of Salmond (I think he suffered a severe form of pomposity to say the least) he was found innocent in his recent trial for alleged sexual offences. Murray’s online reporting of the case was fascinating, but differed substantially from the mainstream media’s take on it. It seems that some powerful forces in Scotland have yet to agree with the jury. Now Murray, a prominent Salmond supporter is being hounded for not toeing the mainstream line, and is summoned to face the beaks. Murray has asked his blog’s readers to share his account so far of the Stalinist forces (my phrase) at work in Scotland. It’s worth reading, here.
+The relaxation of social distancing rules in Northern Ireland has moved beyond what was anticipated. So expect now to see Catholics and Protestants happily mingling . . .
+A day after Prince Charles announced that he wanted to see Brits getting down to the back-breaking task of picking fruit (absent East Europeans) the government has launched a website to let people know where they can go and get stuck in. Except, according to the PM programme, the website didn’t work. Perhaps it was overloaded suggested Evan Davis, helpfully giving another government cock-up the benefit of the doubt. Well, if they only had twelve hours to prepare another ground breaking initiative (after Charles’ unhelpful intervention) to get Britain back to work, what do you expect? If I were Prince Charles, I would emit a loud harrumph and get back to stroking my Asparagus.
+On the same PM programme (19th May) I heard a clip of ‘cabinet minister’ Therese Coffey (one of the women Liz Truss might rightfully consider ‘meritless’) suggesting that ministers may have been misguided by the science. Blame the experts, as somebody once said. Never mind that one of the guiding principles of government—when it comes to protecting its population—should be the precautionary principle. And I thought these people were ‘conservatives.’