We could live forever
An unquestionable benefit of the pandemic for me has been the increased use of the internet by art galleries to deliver talks, by Zoom (of course). This week I have enjoyed a ‘visit’ to the Ben Uri gallery in London for a talk about artist Gustave Metzger, who I think I have come across before, but learnt a lot more about. It has to be said that maybe Metzger didn’t leave a huge legacy, since he largely developed, in the 1960s, something called auto-destructive art, a classic post-modernist form. Ben Uri are producing a series of talks about his work, and I hope to tap in to most of them. I also paid a ‘visit’ to the National Gallery today for a talk on Art and Technology. This quickly ran through some of the new realities which are engaging artists—virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), extended reality (ER) and Boris reality (BR) - no hang on a sec, I made the last one up. As an artist, I think I may have missed the boat in developing such things in my own work, but not to worry, it’s quite enough to catch up with one’s own ouvre after long gaps thanks to the intrusion of politics. I still find VR amazing, it has to be said. I once went to an exhibition at Somerset House featuring work by Bjork on VR and every time I spun round there she was, sometimes in the flesh (so to speak) and then turning into a jetstream of colour. I would hate to think what the combination of VR and LSD would do to somebody approaching 70, or any age for that matter. It won’t be long before these Zoom talks are delivered in a VR format. Virtual reality for virtual audiences. Soon we’ll wonder why we have to die.
The good old days
In the old days—before Thatcher—you paid for your domestic energy every quarter in arrears, generally based on your usage (depending on how often the meter reader came round). Now, as I find myself once again changing my supplier, you pay up front one month in advance based on what your supplier tells you they think is a reasonable amount to pay. The idea is that you will build up credit with them in the summer months (effectively lending them your money) so that the accrued surplus covers your extra winter usage. As I have discovered with my last, nearly departed supplier, if they demand (as they did) you pay a monthly sum based on 12 months winter average usage, you’ll end up lending them a lot of money. I complained about this to that business, pointing out that I had consistently given them monthly meter readings, so they had precise data. In reply I got emails, allegedly written by a human being, meticulously ignoring the specific points I had raised with them.
On top of that, I have always tried, over the last 15-20 years to stick with a ‘green’ tariff. Now it turns out that many of these so-called green energy suppliers are merely buying carbon credits, rather than investing in green technology directly. There is very little transparency. The current incarnation of the carbon credit system is severely flawed, and I am in no doubt that the market is plagued by double counting. This whole privatised energy market is heading towards a reckoning. I hope. That would have come sooner rather than later if Jeremy Corbyn had been elected. As it is, I suspect Kier Starmer has already decided against nationalising energy. Come the next election we’ll probably get some mild proposals to tweak the regulator’s remit, which will of course be described as ‘radical proposals.’
Thought for the day
It is rather difficult to tell where the current slew of allegations of sleaze against the Tories is going to take us. It was reckoned that John Major’s government was badly damaged by the sleaze factor, although I feel there was a backwash which slopped over Labour too. It wasn’t long before the F1 tobacco exemption scandal confirmed that ‘all politicians are the same’ and now, after the MPs’ expenses scandal public confidence has clearly not returned. A cynicism has set in which I suspect turns people off politics and certainly does not enthuse them to do anything about it (whatever it is). ‘Vote that lot out’ is fine, if you have a positive feel about ‘Vote this lot in.’ Johnson seems to have taken on board Trump’s discovery that no matter how badly you perform, and no matter how sleazy your administration is, the main redemptive factor these days is just to be ‘one of us,’ a simulacrum of ‘normality,’ a flawed human being without pretensions to sainthood. Trump famously said that if he shot somebody on Fifth Avenue, nobody would be bothered (or words to that effect). Johnson has one of the worst Covid death rates of any leader, and nobody seems to be bothered. The Tories’ poll rankings are still well above Labour’s. Labour has unfortunately signally failed to make anybody bothered about the death rate. So much for constructive opposition. So who will remember in two or three years’ time whether Johnson actually said he would rather see bodies piling up then entertain a third lockdown? In the face of a multiple liar, who was elected on the back of multiple lies, and who will lie again and again, what’s new? What would actually make voters change their opinion? It will have to be something nobody has yet anticipated, least of all the nincompoop Johnson himself.
And the winner is . . .
Who I wonder is to be this year’s Nobel Peace Laureate? I would be willing to bet that the public choice would come down to Thunberg versus Navalny. Of the two I would favour Greta, since in a way she is the least tainted by politics, though how long that will last is anybody’s guess. One wonders what she’ll be saying in five years’ time, after what will have seemed like a lifetime struggling with the vested interests she rightly rails against. As for Navalny, regardless of some doubts about his right leaning past, it cannot be understated how his choice to return to Russia makes him something of a hero. But fighting Putin is not the same as fighting climate change, one affects us all, the other is largely a local affair, despite all the allegations about Russia’s supposed malign influence in global affairs (and the problem with that allegation, which may well be true is that we’re up to the same tricks and always have been). The Peace Prize committee has blotted its copy book in the past—Kissinger!—and more recently giving the award to Obama for merely being elected. I think my money is on Thunberg, unless of course the committee finds some obscure but well meaning individual nobody’s heard of. Or would rather forget.
It's over my head
+Saint Vincent Cable, the former Liberal Democrat leader told the BBC this evening that he had no idea that there was a huge miscarriage of justice taking place in the Post Office, where hundreds of local postmasters and mistresses were being charged with fraud because of a defective new computer system. Cable was the Secretary of State for Business at the time, with responsibility for the Post Office. He is also the same sanctimonious creep who alone (allegedly) predicted the 2008 financial crash and was briefly the all-seeing Mystic Meg of British politics. But he had no idea of what is now being described as the UK’s biggest miscarriage of justice—with the first tranche of the wrongly accused being exonerated in the courts. When asked if one MP, Kevan Jones, campaigning on the issue had contacted him, he could only say ‘I can’t remember.’ Over to you Mr Jones. Another aspect of this case is how the Post Office used private prosecutions to pursue its victims. According to one former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), also interviewed this evening, the DPP can always intervene in private prosecutions one way or the other. I’m wondering if there are any other ex-DPPs around who would care to comment on their take - or non-role - in the UK’s ‘biggest miscarriage of justice.’
+I noticed today at least 20 or more passenger jets flying over my patch of Yorkshire. Thankfully none of them looked set to land here, but it does seem so far as con trails are concerned that everything is back to normal. Where have they been? Where are they going? How many carry the infernal disease?
Another blog today
An Intercept article just posted ends with the line ‘loan quality is laid bare by Covid-19.’ This comes after a report on how commercial business loans are being traded in the US just as sub-prime mortgages were 12 years ago. It has been suggested that financial cycles tend these days to run in 10 to 12 year cycles, so even without Covid we may reasonably have shortly expected what is euphemistically known as a ’correction.’ But Covid has intervened to make that almost a dead certainty. The Intercept article focuses on research that shows Wall Street was up to its old tricks well before the pandemic, the old trick being of course to inflate real estate values to boost the value of bundled up derivatives to be sold on to investors who failed to perform due diligence. The author of this latest research has submitted a complaint to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and it will be interesting to see how they react. This is the same regulatory body which the recently deceased Ponzi scheme tycoon Bernie Madoff had such fun with.
We aren’t out of the pandemic yet, and as things stand it is clear that a lot of commercial enterprises have only been kept going on a taxpayer funded life support machine. Coupled with the devastation of the high street and retail sector, you’d imagine the commercial property market must be on the edge of a precipice. How many valuations are about to be written down, especially those with astronomical values in big city centres which have fared worst? An already over inflated market coupled with a sudden bubble bursting phenomenon like Covid must surely point to some sort of financial collapse, not even taking into account the borrowing forced by the pandemic. The response to the last financial crisis was austerity and now we can only wonder if Austerity II on a much more devastating scale is about to be unleashed. I would like to think that Joe Biden, with his total $3.9 trillion rebuilding programme understands the issue and so is intent on avoiding the austerity mistake, but our own bunch closer to home—what’s their big plan? And why isn’t Starmer setting out now Labour’s vision? How long does he think we’ve got to come up with something? All we seem to have had so far is the proposal that the public could spend some of their pandemic savings on Covid recovery bonds. Get a grip!!
Writing about football for two days running is something I never considered remotely possible, but this European Super League for billionaires has forced me into it. Johnson may have helped to demolish the proposal by telling people he would legislate if necessary to stop it. Now that the ESL plan seems to have collapsed, Johnson will claim all the credit, and once again promote himself as the true champion of ordinary fans. In contrast, Starmer looks increasingly like a beleaguered coach, trailing far behind. And all the while, the billionaire owners and their model of capitalism pretty much escapes unscathed. But only a week ago Johnson saw fit to get involved in Saudi Arabia’s £300m bid to buy Newcastle FC off Mike Ashley. According to the Guardian (15th April): ‘Johnson asked Edward Lister, his special envoy for the Gulf, to take up the issue, and Lord Lister reportedly told the prime minister: “I’m on the case. I will investigate.”’ Perhaps the ESL billionaires should have followed in Mohammed bin Salman’s footsteps and gone to the PM first. As regards Labour’s response, as expressed by the party’s shadow sports minister Alison McGovern MP football clubs should be owned by their fans. Perhaps this could be achieved if they were nationalised? How else will these lucrative (top club) corporations change hands?
Capitalist football? Referee!!
When I was a Leeds MP I once went to a meeting of colleagues to discuss the future of perennially crisis-hit Leeds United Football Club back in the noughties. Being the least football inclined person in the room I was shocked to discover that are as many views on the future of football clubs as there fans. I quickly realised I was quite out of my depth, and since I didn’t have the slightest interest in the game silence was the better course to take. But now, with the proposed formation of an exclusive European Super League, backed by bankers JP Morgan it seems everybody has become united in their condemnation of this ‘attack’ on the sport. But so far it seems to be only the fans who are blaming the capitalist ‘oligarchs’ for the attack. Others, higher up the pecking order seem to be more concerned with the so-called integrity of the game. I’ve not yet heard what Starmer has to say, perhaps he’s waiting for the right moment to condemn the rapacious capitalists behind the venture. Perhaps he’s waiting to see which way the wind blows. Using this episode to signal the end of capitalism—when of course football has been controlled by capitalists for decades—might be a tad premature, especially for someone as tin-eared as the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
The Guardian’s lead story this morning had the headline ‘Cut poverty to reduce crime, says police leader.’ I’m not sure why this story merited a front page lead. Was it because a police chief was straying into political territory? One can imagine backwoods Tory MPs saying ‘catch them and lock ‘em up then.’ Or was it because this was a genuinely new discovery by the police? Or could it be that the police, indeed the justice system should spend more time tackling those who keep the poor, poor? The likes of Uber, Amazon, the gig economy? Now that would be political . . not least if it led to efforts to rein in the multitude of vastly wealthy people who use every trick in the book to fiddle the system on the margins (and beyond) of the law. They, and of course their fellow travellers like former ministers and prime ministers who corrupt the state with their behind the scenes influence.
The outspoken top police officer, the retiring chief constable of Merseyside Andy Cooke said that in his experience he didn’t think most criminals were inherently bad and if they could just earn a decent living most would chose to do so. Actually, I suspect that most people who are poor still don’t commit crimes, but where they do I also suspect drug use is an important factor, in which case an honest look at legalising and controlling the supply of drugs would be a good idea.
Given that Merseyside is generally seen as a poor region, and Andy Cooke was its chief constable, you might think it was a crime hot spot. But that all depends on what type of crime is being considered. Google ‘UK white collar crime’ and a different picture emerges. The first hit White-Collar Crime Statistics | DPP Business & Tax Solicitors (dpp-businesstax.com) reveals that the UK’s richest region leads the way ‘The southeast of England seems to host the largest number of fraud cases. Essex is top for consumer fraud and bank fraud, with 12.7 and 12.2 reports per 10,000 people respectively. The national average for each is 11.3 and 5.4.’ The same website reports that the UK loses £190 billion to fraud each year. That does seem rather a lot. Only six years ago the total UK cost of crime against individuals and businesses was estimated by the Office for National Statistics to be £59 billion. Perhaps white collar crime has rocketed, because the ONS also report that crime excluding fraud has dropped dramatically since the mid 1990s.
All in all, whilst I’m not a criminologist, I would say a headline reading ‘Cut wealth to reduce crime’ might not be so far off the mark.
Since I’m often in BBC attack dog mode, perhaps I need to correct any impression that I’m merely an attack dog. There was a programme on Radio 4 tonight in the File on 4 slot about a disabled (cerebral palsy) woman’s dilemma about having children. This developed into a study of whether disabled people should even consider having children, given the negativity they face just as disabled people—let alone those that breed. I’ve rarely heard such an evocation of human love, delivered without any self-pity or reference to self-ordination. It was the kind of story—of ordinary people’s lives—that if I wished to be controversial would blow away the endless peddling of how others, living a life of great privilege have somehow led ‘extraordinary’ lives. I would thoroughly recommend listening to this programme on the BBC sounds I-player thingy to hear a formidably life affirming programme.