Anyone who has read Christopher Hitchin’s little book No-one Left to Lie To, which relates Bill Clinton’s propensity for launching missile strikes whilst fighting sexual allegations at home may feel a certain sense of déjà vu. If Hitchins were alive today he would be having a field day with Trump. At home, Trump is once again being swallowed up by, first of all the allegations he had sex with prostitutes (not least Stormy Daniels who was paid $130,000 to shut up) but also former FBI director James Comey’s rehashing the ‘golden showers’ story. This, as you will no doubt recall dated from the time of the Miss Universe contest held in Moscow in 2013 when Trump, staying at the Ritz Carlton hotel, allegedly had five prostitutes urinate on the bed in the presidential suite (where the hated Obamas had stayed). Back in the 1990s, Clinton’s ‘distraction’ missiles didn’t always find their target. As Wikipedia tells us “[The] justifications for the bombing were disputed by the owners of the plant, the Sudanese government, and other governments. American officials later acknowledged "that the evidence that prompted President Clinton to order the missile strike on the Shifa plant was not as solid as first portrayed. Indeed, officials later said that there was no proof that the plant had been manufacturing or storing nerve gas, as initially suspected by the Americans, or had been linked to Osama bin Laden, who was a resident of Khartoum in the 1980s.”
Thankfully for us our Prime Minister acts only on the basis of the very highest moral and ethical standards and can be trusted in every respect - there's positively no chance that she would want to distract us from anything. Is there.
An objective account of the golden showers story is here.
Our all-seeing all-knowing government has published the 'legal advice' it used to bolster its case for bombing Syria. The advice, which could almost fit on the back of a fag packet (were it not for the health warnings) concludes:
In these circumstances, and as an exceptional measure on grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity, military intervention to strike carefully considered, specifically identified targets in order effectively to alleviate humanitarian distress by degrading the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and deterring further chemical weapons attacks was necessary and proportionate and therefore legally justifiable. Such an intervention was directed exclusively to averting a humanitarian catastrophe caused by the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, and the action was the minimum judged necessary for that purpose.
This rather begs the question why they didn't unleash their highly accurate, GPS guided missiles BEFORE the most recent chemical weapons use in Syria. It appears as if it took no time at all for them to identify "carefully considered, specifically identified targets." So for how long had May's government known of these targets, and why didn't they 'take them out' before yet another "humanitarian catastrophe" happened? Isn't prevention better than cure? In her own terms our Prime Minister has demonstrated her capacity for negligence yet again.
I've been alerted to an excellent website called Skwawkbox which contains a clip from Sky News in which the former head of UK armed forces in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Jonathan Shaw is peremptorily cut off whilst saying Assad had no reason to use chemical weapons against his own people. That's not what we're supposed to hear when our brave Prime Minister is battling away to secure her own 'GOTCHA' moment, licensed by loser Trump if not our own Parliament. Apparently she will deign to give an account of her brave deeds to Parliament on Monday. I do hope that all Labour MPs will back Corbyn's stance and avoid trying to sound like May's echo chamber. Some will no doubt want to secure a headline or two by doing just that.
Which reminds me of something else worth watching. No Love for Johnny (1961), starring Peter Finch has just been released on DVD, and portrays an ambitious Labour backbencher who is as cynical as they come. There were a few in those days, and not just on Labour's benches.
A new report suggests that people who drink alcohol over the recommended 'safe' limit can lose up to five years off their lives. So instead of popping your clogs at 92 you may go at 87 - or of course not, depending on your genes. This has to be good news, given how much it will save the NHS. For one who watched the final three to five years of both my parents spent in conditions they never wished for, frankly I'll drink a toast to the idea that one could curtail the risk of that eventuality. Not least in a country where politicians are afraid of upsetting the established church with the idea that one should be able to chose a dignified death of one's own timing (interestingly of course the Bible doesn't condemn suicide, but does seem to approve of the idea of turning water into wine). And what other reasons could you imagine may warrant a few pints?
As the Daily Mail so succinctly put it this morning MISSILES AT THE READY. The drumbeat of war never seems to leave us for long, and it seems that our Prime Minister is merely waiting for her orders from Washington before displaying her decisiveness in bombing Syria. Chemical weapons are abhorrent - but so is getting blasted to bits. Theresa doesn't seem all that disturbed about what the weapons we sell to the Saudis are doing to children in Yemen. And given how Putin is portrayed in the West, why would Trump et al wish to test him? Conflict is a risk multiplier - war rarely goes to plan - and the enormity of the risks in this case mean that a simple resort to bombing is not the solution. So, today being a Friday, and the 13th to boot, I'll be off down to the pub.
Further research since my last blog (27th March) on this subject has revealed that the Scarborough School Board did indeed advertise for a teaching assistant at the time that van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo that he had sought a post in Scarborough. The Scarborough Mercury of 19th February 1876 reported that a meeting of the School Board considered the applications and salary for an assistant teaching post at the Central School for Boys. 40 applications were received for the £60 p.a. (now worth around £6,500) job which was to be vacated by a Mr Potter. This of course could be a coincidence and I am still exploring another possibility.
An atmospheric day in Scarborough today, due I suppose to what some may describe as a sea fret. This means that half a mile inland it may be bright and sunny but down in the old town a chilly mist clings to the castle hill, and the foghorn in a repetitious and unrequited love call vibrates the moisture with its middle C trumpet. Of course anyone worth their salt out at sea these days will have GPS so I guess the foghorn serves more to remind day trippers that even without sunshine the seaside is a romantic place to be. So, even minus the sunshine it was a great day to walk up to the art gallery to listen to a talk on the obscure, forgotten French artist Rodolphe Bresdin delivered by his first biographer Trevor Dance. An engraver and etcher in the 19th century, the reclusive and itinerant Bresdin should qualify for some sort of pre-van Gogh ‘artist living in penury’ award. The Friends of Scarborough Art Gallery which put on the talk are to be congratulated for putting on this kind of event. But I worry. I’m mid-sixties and I felt like I was on the younger end of the spectrum in the audience. It sometimes feels the same at classical music concerts. I could go into a rant, but I will resist the temptation. Bring back rationing. Bring back national service. Bring back the empire. Bring back beer at 1/6 a pint. Meanwhile, the foghorn maintains its unrequited love affair with – the past.
Today’s Guardian had a story headlined ‘Peers report anti-semitic posts on pro-Corbyn Facebook page to police.’ The story relates how Lord Sugar and other peers have complained to the Metropolitan Police about messages “on some pro-Corbyn Facebook pages which go well beyond what can reasonably be called free speech.” They cite a Facebook group called ‘Supporting Jeremy Corbyn & John McDonnell’ and another one called ‘Jeremy Corbyn Leads Us To Victory.’
At no point in the article do we see pro-Corbyn Facebook page in parentheses. There is no questioning of how the Facebook groups came about, their participants’ identity, whether they had any connection whatever with Corbyn or even if they were Labour Party members or had endorsement from Corbyn. I don’t do Facebook, so I’m not really sure how it works but I do know that even Mark Zuckerberg has recognised that Facebook has been used as a conduit for fake news, falsehood and mendacious behaviour in a variety of guises. Yet here we have yet another Guardian story which repeats verbatim claims made about alleged pro-Corbyn groups.
Isn’t it time – with all we now know about Facebook and indeed all other forms of anonymised nonsense that spews forth on the internet that media like the Guardian should be a little bit more questioning? This kind of stuff is equivalent to blazing headlines like ‘Corbyn and the Commie spy’ – it’s a drip feed of insinuation based on association. I have to say, I very much doubt that we’ll ever hear any results from the Metropolitan Police investigation.
It’s a metaphor of Brexit. The price of bog paper. Shrinkflation. A new deceit. An economy going down the pan. The price of my usual loo roll brand has remained the same for several years, at £1.99 for six (or for all of that time should I say £1.99 for four rolls plus two free!). But I gradually began to realise that something wasn’t quite right, so I compared the product I bought today with some in the cupboard (one wishes to keep well stocked up). Amazingly, the latest rolls have ten more sheets, yet were somewhat thinner. How has this miracle of inflation busting been achieved? By going from three-ply to two ply. In effect, a one third cut. That’s Brexit for you. After the Toblerone fewer humps scandal, which appeared to me at the time more to do with them keeping their chocs in Poundland than anything else, I now realise shrinkflation is rife. Talking of Poundland, their pack of five glue sticks are now 71% the size they used to be. A little thing perhaps, but which most manufacturers must be hoping we won’t notice. Toblerone made the mistake of reducing their size in a crassly obvious way, when they might simply have reduced the overall size in a couple of discreet stages. I suppose shrinkflation has been with us for some time, but now it seems to symbolise the age we live in. To be honest, the biggest form of shrinkflation happened in local government, long before Brexit. When the Tory-coalition government froze council tax for five years, councils shrank. Social care was ravaged, along with all our other local services. Seen the state of the roads lately? Now we’re beginning to count the cost, with a five per cent council tax increase this year, which isn’t anything like enough to cover the cost of the damage already done. At some point the deceit has to come to an end. But it takes time to really notice how things are getting crapper, that false economies were made. On the bog paper front, let’s hope there is an awakening before we move into Izal territory. I assume that Jacob Rees Mogg will have it that Izal was a great British experience (for the oiks) and come March, 2019 it will be back in the shops again. Rejoice!
I’m sorry. I wandered a little off piste there, even if my last remark may contain a truism. I’ve just checked the ONS website and they say “ . . . despite some media speculation, there has not been a change in trend since the EU referendum – our data shows that shrinkflation has been used in practice consistently across the past 5 years.” (See here) So we can still blame our dear government for ushering in the New Age of Deceit.
It’s been described as the first climate change disease, becoming endemic in areas which formerly couldn’t sustain its vector. A warmer climate means it is spreading rapidly, not least in the UK. Lyme disease is spread by ticks and their habitat is growing. In the UK recent figures show that reported cases of Lyme disease have grown ten-fold in the last ten years. Lyme disease can cause all sorts of problems, up to and including heart failure. Currently there is no vaccine. Not all ticks carry the disease, but it is only a matter of time before more do. An excellent report on this growing threat - well worth reading - is to be found here. If you do read the report, you will see that some experts, if not using the word ‘epidemic’ now clearly believe that’s where we’re headed. So surely anticipating something as bad as this just round the corner what is our government doing? It’s commissioned a review which it hopes will be available in June. In 2016 just 22 MPs signed a parliamentary Early Day Motion calling for serious action. And there’s not much else. There used to be a vaccine, but it was ditched after the anti-vaccine hysteria in the wake of the MMR scandal. Areas – such as the North York Moors – with high but as yet largely uninfected tick populations must be seen as the future risk areas, although cases have been reported even from cities, London included. We don’t have to wait until the end of the century to see the impacts of climate change. They’re happening now and this is one of them. I shall still go out for my country walks, but I won’t be wearing short trousers or short sleeved shirts again.
Another climate change story with an interesting twist: the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that fracking under somebody else’s property is trespass. So it looks like some U.S. citizens have more rights when it comes to fracking than we do. Our dear government changed the law to enable frackers to freely exploit whatever they can from underneath our properties.
If you are a member of anything that keeps a record of you, you will have had or are about to receive a message telling you that new data protection rules coming into force in May mean that you have to be told what your data is held for, who it’s shared with, etc., etc. It may look to some as if the government is actually doing something in the wake of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, but let’s not get too excited. I feel quite sure this will turn out to be yet another legal damp squib which merely serves as window dressing for a hollow man (Yes, I know). Breaches of data protection law are now so rife it would take the Information Commissioner’s Office a millennium to plough through them all – if we could be bothered to complain, of course. A recent case serves to illustrate the point. The UK, being Europe’s most CCTV’d state has 100,000s of CCTV cameras which if they look out onto the street must display a sign alerting passers-by of their existence. But 99.9% of them don’t. So if a camera is pointing towards where you live (an example chosen at random) you should know about it and crucially be able to demand to see any data recorded by it. Your face counts as data, as well as when your image was captured, etc. Perhaps the camera is mounted on a block of flats. So perhaps you write to the Info Comm. to find out what your rights are. A standard response from them will tell you “Our aim is to improve information rights practices. We do this by taking an overview of all concerns that are raised with a view to improving compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). We cannot make individuals or organisations stop using CCTV, or make them reposition their camera. However anyone operating CCTV cameras which capture personal data beyond the boundaries of their private property will have to comply with the DPA.” The Info Comm will send a letter to the camera’s owner, reminding them of their responsibilities. Handily, if the CCTV is mounted on a block of flats, they will send the letter addressed to the ‘Occupier.’ This latter response – for an ‘information commissioner’ – must constitute one of the finer piss takes available in their book of remedies. Nothing will happen. As we’ve seen in the last few weeks, data is to humans what water is to fish. We’ll have to evolve a little bit more before we can struggle out of this sea, but before that could happen I suspect we’ll all be chipped.