Not moving on
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.’
In the Rose Garden
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.
Winter takes all
+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 today
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.
I don't believe it!
+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.’
+There are no women of suitable talent in the UK government, according to International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss. Responding to a criticism from former Tory MP and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Truss said on the Andrew Marr show “I don’t like tokenism. I don't like the idea that somebody should just appear at a press conference or in a media interview because they're a woman.” The minister said people should appear based on their "merits" and “what they are capable of”. So now we know. Johnson hasn’t appointed any women of sufficient ‘merit’ or ‘capability’ to his Cabinet that he might trust to do the Downing Street Party Political briefing. We knew this was the case with Pritti Patel when she was let out just the once. Indeed, we know it all too well of the men too. Let me be the first to call for the whole bunch of meritless incapable dozers to resign.
+ Given that the government seems intent on reverting to its herd immunity strategy by prematurely easing the lockdown, it was useful to read a clear, explanatory article on the subject - the best I've read. It can be found on the FiveThirtyEight website here.
Reasons to rankle
I’m still rankling after a close encounter with a late middle aged, arrogant git on his bike cycling on the pavement, who when challenged to keep his distance simply said ‘no.’ Now, my rankling score has shot through the roof as former Supreme Court judge, Jonathan (Lord) Sumption has been given airspace to suggest that the lockdown should be completely ended and people could merely exercise ‘common sense’ in social distancing. He implied that if I, as is my right, wish to socially distance I may do so. But others, enjoying their civil liberties need not, because we live in a free society. So whilst I may seek my two metres distance, others in Sumption’s assessment are quite at liberty to enter said space. This is, as they say, the law of the jungle and one can only marvel at the thought that this legal wizard ever got to sit on the Supreme Court. Maybe he’s been put up to it by the herd immunity herd, preparing us for the day when contagion finally has a showdown with capitalism—under the benign guise of ‘freedom of choice.’ This may also be the approach taken by Piers Corbyn, brother of you know who was arrested today in Hyde Park whilst participating in and indeed encouraging a small crowd to gather to demand their right to protest, chiefly it seems about the ‘link’ between 5G and Covid-19. Where’s David Icke when you need him? Not self-isolating I hope.
Follow the logic
+For evening exercise a walk round Scarborough’s Marine Drive is nominally attractive. I add the word ‘nominally’ because its popularity brings out a number of people for whom the basics of Covid-19 awareness is a test too far. Maybe it’s the mixed messages from government which licenses ignorant behaviour, but I’m not sure that reasonable explanation goes far enough. Despite the road itself being more traffic free these days, the pavement has become overburdened with cyclists of all ages who weave in an and out between pedestrians. Whilst the pavement is wide, it is not to my knowledge a designated dual use surface. I suggested to one cyclist that he might consider social distancing, since it was clear he had no intention of doing so—the answer was simply ‘no.’ I think he was probably about the same age as me, so the arrogance of ignorance is clearly not the preserve of eternal youth. One reason perhaps why so many choose to ride on the pavement is because the Marine Drive road is a fairly bumpy, cobbled surface. The pavement is smoother. But since most of the law breakers are riding mountain bikes what difference should that make? What exactly should one do in these circumstances? An exchange of effing and blinding might be the only unsatisfactory outcome. Or a sprinkling of drawing pins?
+All hope is not lost, but it’s a very complicated story. That’s the impression I have gleaned from reading Terry Eagleton’s Hope Without Optimism, which I bought before all this virus stuff took off. How prescient of me. I like to think that I enjoy reading Eagleton’s books, but I confess to struggling with keeping up and this one’s no exception. He makes a virtue of being well read and understanding what he reads well, whereas my slovenly style of reading allows so much to slip past without understanding, still less helping me develop my personal hermeneutical framework. How easy and perhaps preferable it would be to slide into a fideist cul-de-sac and just await the blinding flash of wisdom, never mind all that heuristic guesswork. I’m not sure what I’m hoping for here, that’s the problem reading a book about hope without optimism. It’s all a bit complicated.
+Surely it’s time to bring back the three ’r’s’ which is to say the value of ‘r’ can be our positive key metric when it’s below 1, a bit dodgy when it’s hovering around 1 and of no significance at all when it’s above 1? Wouldn’t it be a good idea if we learnt our three r’s before we tuned into a government briefing? Then we could better understand the significance of why what was important for the government yesterday needn’t be important today. What exactly is it that drives us to believe that consistency matters? Progress? Shouldn’t we just accept that a, b, c, d, e, f, etc., etc., as a sequence is purely arbitrary? These letters after all are combined in new formulations everyday, language evolves. If my thinking is correct, we generally allow whoever is in charge to bastardise definitional meaning whenever it suits. There is logic in language and there is logic in maths, but where is the logic in life? That is the fundamental dialectic and it is what, in its current pathetic form we are witnessing today, as ministers play ‘logical’ mind games on what they assume to be an unsuspecting public incapable of logic (the last bit is as yet to be tested).