In the full flush of life
I have been looking at my bookshelves. There’s a hell of a lot of stuff I’ve not read. In fact my voluminous book collection isn’t in reality ever going to be read. But it’s very comforting having it. All those thousands of pages and millions (possibly over a billion) words – all pressed together in worthy neglect. But I should try to make an effort to read more of it, now that I am about to become a ‘senior’ in all respects (i.e. entitled to state pension). After all, weren’t some of those books collected on the assumption that I would have (quality leisure) time on my hands at this point? This anticipation does not apply to the shelves stacked with the twenty years’ worth of Hansards I have, by the way – they are definitely there merely for decoration.
As a new senior, I feel entitled to wander off the subject at will, and now I will. The inspiration for this musing on age, and my capacity to do something with the collection of books I have amassed has been the receipt of another NHS screening notification, this time for a burst aorta, or should I say an abdominal aortic aneurysm. One has had heard of this sort of thing before – I think – but until now I never really knew what it meant. But now I do, and I’ve been given an appointment to be screened. I will go of course, to see if my aorta’s wall sidings are made of Teflon coated Titanium or merely made out of Poundland toilet paper. Much of it is in the genes of course. I suspect mine will be OK due to the fact that my ancestors came from France.
Anyway, with all this old age screening (the bowl cancer pooper scooper’s been out since I was 60) I feel the same way I did facing the 11+ all those years ago. What if I fail the test? What kind of relegation zone will I face all over again? It’s bad enough to fail at the start of life, but now? I will have to learn all about living with some kind of failure again, will I? Alternatively I can just go with the flow and say fuck it. You are what you are, and there’s actually very little you can do to change that. Indeed, there are some serious risks attendant on such attempts. Thankfully, the NHS leaflet about bursting aortas tells me that if I am rare enough to qualify for surgery, I only have a one in 54 chance of dying. Not such bad odds, and I suppose going to heaven might be better under general anaesthetic.
So, that little digression out of the way, I am looking at my bookshelves, and I have decided to read a book that’s sat there for years and will now be read in a kind of act of defiance. Almost plucked at random from my philosophy shelf, the lucky book is titled Alienation, by Richard Schacht, published by George Allen and Unwin in 1971 and purchased from a Hull City Library sale for 25p in 1985. I shall now read this with all due vigour and report back. And if I don’t, blame the burst aorta, or at least an overlong siesta.
On an entirely different subject, my toilet stopped flushing the other day. This was due to a split in the diaphragm in the siphon. This is a thin piece of plastic which carries water up when you pull the lever and then lets it flow past when you release the lever. The diaphragm costs pennies, but many people will call out a plumber for £100 to replace the entire siphon when its cheapest part (inevitably) fails. Let me say here and now that I am willing to do the job for 50 quid (plus expenses) and I will of course leave without asking you when you actually last cleaned behind your toilet.
Focus groups old hat?
I've just had another book review published by the ever excellent Lobster - see here. The book is about focus groups, considered more generally in the consumer market, but of specific interest to me in the political context. Remember how Tony Blair was described as a focus group driven politician? Focus groups were and to an extent still are demonised as an ingredient in the new era of conviction-free politicians. But then, remember G. Brown Esq? The greatest threat to focus groups now comes from algorithms in the hands of unscrupulous data harvesters on the internet. What fascinating times, eh?
A legacy issue
Seven years ago Humber Street in Hull was a neglected, run down street, practically the last remaining remnant of Hull's fruitmarket down near the river front. It was seven years ago that the Kingston Art Group (KAG) moved into an old building there and turned it into a gallery with studios above. Seven years later, and next Friday KAG are having a leaving party, celebrating having had 80 exhibitions and over 80,000 visitors. Odd, isn't it? Now, Humber Street has been tarted up and new businesses encouraged. So, as is their right, the owners of the KAG building wanted it back and KAG lost their gallery just at the time when more visitors are being encouraged to wander down Humber Street. Is this part of the Hull City of Culture legacy? Or is it just another typical story of artist-led regeneration which leaves artists out in the cold? Yes, there is a new gallery, called the Humber Street, but there needs to be a critical mass to make this somewhat out of the way part of Hull become sustainably attractive. But rentiers have different ideas. How soon before a Costa opens up?
Context is all
Len McCluskey goes to town today in the New Statesman on the Corbyn-hating Labour MPs - well worth a read. There are quite a few names he could add to his list. I guess none of them will be seeking - or accepting - Unite's support when it comes to the next general election.
Yes, context is all. As Ruth Smeeth MP went to give evidence in the Labour Party disciplinary case against Marc Wadsworth, whom she accuses of making an anti-semitic remark about her after she was allegedly handed a press release by a Daily Telegraph journalist at the launch of the Chakrabati report, she was very much in the spotlight again. So I had a quick look on the internet. Naturally, one takes anything on the internet with a pinch of salt (except this website of course) and I found the following three items, all worth looking at and assessing for yourself. Do these sources stand up? Are the claims true? Does any of the mainstream media have any interest in researching this, just to be sure that they're being objective? Here is the 'evidence' : Wadsworth's 'anti-semitic remark' on video; who is Ruth Smeeth? And lastly, I can only say Oh dear. Is any of this true? Is it all fake? All of it seems reasonably sourced to me, but these days there are technologies being developed which can literally put words into your mouth. Nevertheless, you would have thought some of this stuff might have received more attention in our mighty media.
Not enough admirals
This and that
The election of Carolyn Harris MP as Welsh Labour’s first ever Deputy Leader, beating Julie Morgan AM in a very tight finish could be something of a bonus for Morgan – now that Carwyn Jones, the leader has resigned. It is possible that both could stand in the forthcoming leadership contest (although I am not familiar with the rules), but wouldn’t it be wise to have the Welsh Labour leader speaking in the Welsh Assembly? Morgan’s record on fighting for gender equality, and one member one vote I think qualifies her for the job.
I’ve bought a Camembert from Lidl which absolutely stinks – a disgusting putrid smell which I haven’t encountered before. The cheese itself is delicious, so perhaps first impressions can’t be taken as a reliable indicator of the content’s taste. Or is this phenomenon pretty unique to Camembert? Anything else as whiffy as this would probably have gone straight into the bin. Well done Lidl!
The sea we swim in
Normally as I prepare my tea on a Sunday evening BBC Radio Four has a five o’clock slot which more often than not seems to be taken up with the failure of social services. It’s the kind of programme where the phrase ‘the minister was not available’ nearly always crops up. But tonight it was a bit different, with a programme called “Russians in Britain: a Handbook.” The blurb on i-player says “Who are the Russians who live in the UK? The community is under the spotlight as never before since the attempt on the life of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in March. Caught between fascination and horror, the press heaves with cliches about Russian oligarchs, spies and dissidents living - and spending - in the fancier parts of London. The programme looks at how the present wave of Russians took root in London in the 1990s, encouraged by successive British governments” (my emphasis).
Always an interesting subject, of course, and in this programme we hear what appears to be a balanced (but very sympathetic) picture of these Anglophiles, since the interviewees are all Russian. Oh, and they’re all emigres. Most of them seem to be pretty well off. I’m trying to imagine what would be the reaction if this programme was aired in Russia? Would they interpret it as being anti-Putin? They might well, since there was no interview with somebody who could have but chose not to leave their own country. So does this make the programme a subtle form of one-sided propaganda [sic]? Does it perhaps fall foul of the rules which have inspired Ofcom to investigate RT? The fact is of course that our propaganda – if that’s what it is – is called journalism, not state media, and as we know our strong and stable government has absolutely no influence on the BBC. Anyway, I’m not going to complain since one of the emigres had high praise for Scarborough, and one cannot challenge the truth. Everything she said was spot on.
On the other hand . . .
I've just been watching an edition of 'Sputnik' - the chat show on RT hosted by George Galloway. One of the guests was former Labour Party press officer John Booth, who spoke eloquently about the creation of 'NuLabour' and the current state of politics, not least the Tories' use of the antisemitism row to deflect public attention from their own, appalling record, and not least their own despicable racism. I can't say I was ever a fan of Galloway, but to paraphrase a famous advertising slogan, he does what it says on the tin. Many people may object to what Galloway says, but when it comes to Ofcom launching an investigation into RT's impartiality, I think there's a whiff of double standards in the air. Is Ofcom asking the BBC to explain why it accepted at face value May's claim that it was Labour's deicision to destroy the Windrush landing cards? How is it that Ofcom's investigation into RT was only announced (three days ago) after so many Tories attacked RT? Does Ofcom believe that a chatshow hosted by Galloway is any less 'biased' than one hosted by Andrew Neil? Sometimes of course we don't see the bias in the stuff that we're familiar with.The threat hanging over RT's broadcast license has implications for our right to pick and choose what we want to hear, as well as what can be said. Who in their right minds would argue that we should only pay heed to government press releases? But the government (of whatever stripe) would be overjoyed if we did.
Another Telegraph front page story
There was a debate on anti-semitism in the House of Commons yesterday, held in government time. The debate was simply called “Anti-semitism.” But it was really about anti-semitism in the Labour Party of course, this new phenomenon which has taken hold since Corbyn became leader. A parliamentary debate affords participants complete privilege to say what they like about anything or anybody. This being so, I was rather surprised not to hear of any names being given to these Labour Party members who we are repeatedly told are anti-semitic – apart from two, including Ken Livingstone – who have already been suspended. The debate rather allowed references to the ‘hard left’ to be conflated with the Labour Party. Anti-semitism is a vile thing, and more so in the Labour Party – but it is time for those who accuse the Party of complacency on the issue to put names to these abhorrent people, rather than leaving us with the impression that everything that happens for example, under the cloak of social media anonymity somehow emanates from Party members.
Book your place in the bunker
I sometimes wonder whether anybody pays attention to newspaper headlines. More particularly, I wonder whether I ought to, given the capacity of most of our newspapers to deceive. The headline is a very useful framing device, so even if they convey so briefly and concisely sometimes false or unsubstantiated information there will be some who certainly do pay attention, not least within the rest of the media. They are designed to set the agenda. So look at today’s Daily Telegraph’s unequivocal ‘Russia launches cyber war on UK.’ Not ‘to launch,’ ‘may launch’ or ‘considers launch’ but ‘launches’ – so we are now under attack in a ‘cyber war.’ What is the evidence for this unambiguous and worrying development? The paper says “Whitehall sources last night confirmed a 20-fold increase in ‘disinformation’ being spread by Kremlin-linked social media ‘bot’ accounts since the missile attacks on Syria.” It goes on with a sentence beginning “There are fears . .” (emphasis added) and somewhat later in the story quotes Boris Johnson telling Andrew Marr that he was “worried about cyber attacks on the NHS, the national grid and other infrastructure.” A Pentagon spokesperson is quoted saying the “Russian disinformation campaign has already begun. There has been a 2,000 per cent increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours.” So that’s where our ‘Whitehall sources’ got their information from . . . this all sounds like business as usual. The Telegraph story is padded out with commentary on other aspects of the Syrian missile strike, just to add gravitas to a hyped-up non-story whose headline seeks to convey the impression that we are now facing the worst crisis since Brexit (not that the Telegraph would put it that way of course).
These playing loose press tactics are merely part of the freedom of the ‘free press’ of course. In our free press there is no more chance of being fed propaganda in the UK then say by . . err, I don’t know, RT, is there? In these times, one has to be extra sceptical. All information is disinformation unless proven otherwise. The main factoid in the above story is the ‘20-fold increase’ in alleged Russian bot activity. What we’re not told is how many. Why not?