+A well argued article in Counterpunch makes interesting reading on the subject of Lyme’s disease, which I have commented on before. My concern was about how climate change was encouraging the spread of this tick-borne disease—a disease which can have very serious health consequences. Now it seems probable that the disease was created as a biological weapon, and to make matters worse was developed by former Nazi scientists recruited by the U.S. government in ‘Operation Paperclip,’ which saw the likes of Werner von Braun of V2 rocket and Apollo fame migrate to the U.S. after World War Two. If this story is borne out then perhaps anyone catching the disease should start a class action against the U.S. government.
+I wonder if anyone in the LibDems is having second thoughts about their new leader. First she says she will do whatever it takes to stop Brexit, then she says she won’t deal with Corbyn on the subject, then she says she will after a slight hint of pressure. Are we supposed to believe her when she said she fought tooth and nail against certain austerity measures when she was a minister in the Tory coalition government? It’s the same old ‘all things to all people’ claptrap from the LibDems, I regret to say.
It was a bit alarming to read that Chris ‘Failing’ Grayling, our much derided (no pun intended) former transport secretary has been put in charge of preparations for a post no-deal Brexit airlift of essential supplies to the UK. His immediate boss and successor as transport secretary, Grant Shapps, who uses several aliases, has expressed confidence that there will be no slip-ups under Grayling’s command. But things are already looking askew. Grayling said “Those who know their history will know that we saved Berlin in the 1960s with a massive airlift which stopped the Communist attempt to starve the city. We can do the same if we prepare now. That is why I am asking the RAF to submit a list of all the DC10s it has which could be made available post-Brexit. I have also requested the Chief of the Air Staff to issue an order to all former RAF pilots still alive to report for duty on the 1st November. Let’s not forget Dunkirk. If it comes to it, anyone with a private pilot’s license and a Cessna 172 will be encouraged to help us overcome the foreign invaders. Message ends. Stand at ease.”
Sitting on top of a dusty pile of books in my bedroom I noticed I had a copy of Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address from 2009 (the slim volume also contains Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and his two inaugurals). The inner leaf bears an inscription, barely legible but which prompted a memory—the book was a gift, presumably to all Labour MPs (maybe all MPs) from Gordon Brown, Prime Minister. Gordon’s handwriting is notoriously bad, (written in thick felt tip due to his poor eyesight) and at first glance it looked like he’d written ‘in heat’ but I have determined that it reads ‘in hope.’ Gordon must by now be a sorely disappointed man. I note he is speaking more often about the United Kingdom and the mortal threat it faces post-Brexit. I have to say, I can think of no better reason to wish Brexit on than that it leads to the break-up of this increasingly dysfunctional union. I would rather it happened under the aegis of the E.U. but there we are.
Anyway, this was to be a post about Obama’s Inaugural Address of ten long years ago. In the main, it is a speech of denial, being almost exclusively composed of many references to the better nature of American society, the enlightened ‘scale of its ambitions,’ a society composed of ‘men and women [who] struggled and worked until their hands were raw so that we (sic) might live a better life. They saw America as bigger [greater?] than the sum of our individual ambitions, greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.” His speech continues in this vein, overflowing with the intoxication of the moment as he stood on the steps of the Capitol. (It reminded me of the old Disraeli (?) jibe to another MP ‘the honourable member is intoxicated . . (Order! Order!) . . with the exuberance of his own verbosity.’
Naturally I acknowledge that Obama’s primary purpose was to seek to instil a sense of hope and purpose in the U.S. after the failures of the Bush years and the recession. His appeal to Americans’ better nature may have had more long lasting impact if he had been less gushing about the supposed virtues of American society and more forthright about the greed, manipulation, crony capitalism, the boondoggling Congress, political corruption and gerrymandering that bedevils that ‘democracy.’ I seem to remember that FDR had no such reservations when he often challenged the status quo, for example: “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to the point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence is fascism, ownership of a government by an individual, by a group.” Prescient in the 1930s and no less prescient of what Trump is about today. So how did Obama’s soaring ambitions fail so calamitously?
Obama was everything his words weren’t—a trimmer, a triangulator, an appeaser. Sometimes I wonder if he had had a bit of the Trump about him (in a political sense) he may have headed off Trump. Perhaps there’s a lesson there for the next Democrat presidential nominee. They have to stop equivocating—but with Joe Biden still leading their field of candidates it doesn’t look they’re in any mood to change. Perhaps (this is a joke) they have studied what has befallen Jeremy Corbyn.
An interesting programme on BBC Radio 4 last night called ‘Can Facebook Survive?’ It was a sober assessment of the issues this tech giant has thrown up, things I guess which we are mostly familiar with. I listened eagerly awaiting to hear what Facebook’s most recent recruit, ‘Sir’ Nick Clegg (Facebook’s new Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications) had to contribute, but sadly his voice wasn’t heard. Nor was that of ‘Lord’ Richard Allan, who was Clegg’s predecessor LibDem MP for Sheffield Hallam constituency until he voluntarily stood down in 2005—leaving Clegg a healthy majority. I can’t imagine why Allan became a peer, apart from being Clegg’s campaign manager in the subsequent general election. And why would we want to hear from ‘Lord’ Allan? Could it be because he went on to become Facebook’s European Director of Policy? What a cosy little club! It’s not what you know . . .
I thought I would find out what the new LibDem leader Jo Swinson ‘CBE’ had to say about Facebook. Searching on the internet all I discovered is that she is a massive user of Facebook. And apparently took money from a fracker, but that’s neither here nor there. I didn’t see a critical mention of Facebook on her website. Anyway, I’m sure she has something to say about it (presumably after consulting Nick and Richard). I was rather struck by a comment on the BBC programme which said that different users of Facebook can be targeted with different messages from the same source, depending on what that source thinks those people might believe. Sounds like the LibDem’s ‘Focus’ newsletter. Plus ça change.
Nature Notes: I’m inspired to write this after witnessing a most cruel and brazen piece of savagery this morning on my walk. There on the wall by the road on Scarborough’s Marine Drive was a Herring Gull tucking into a young, helpless and still alive Kittiwake. What could one do? The Kittiwake was somewhat hopelessly flapping its wings, but it was a gonner, even if I’d shooed the Gull away. Yet only the other day I was down here and saw a pod of four or five Bottlenose Dolphins happily swimming 200 yards offshore, a rather different portrayal shall we say of cuddly nature which brings out our cameras and pointed fingers ’Ooh Aaah.’ But nobody was watching the gull eat the Kittiwake, with their cameras out and going ’Ooh Aagh.’ Presumably Dolphins don’t eat other creatures, or perhaps to suit our sensibilities they only do it out of sight. I once watched a Sparrowhawk eat a Sparrow in my garden—to make matters somewhat more dramatic it was winter when we actually had some snow, so the blood was more evident. Sparrowhawks don’t eat feathers so far as I can tell so its feast began with plucking off its victim’s plumage. Not a pleasant sight. Since I’ve now got several Sparrow families nesting in my ivy I keep an eye out for the Sparrowhawk, and frighten it off if I’m in the garden. But it has to eat somewhere doesn’t it?
I was never sure whether the squealing birds of summers yore were House Martins or Swifts—but now there are hardly any. There were bats too, but since I have not been sat out at dusk so often, perhaps I’ve just missed them. One has to be eagle eyed to detect a bat—it is but a small, fleeting shadow in the twilight.
A few days ago I rescued a fledgling Herring Gull from the garden. The second time this has happened in ten years. This time the young bird hadn’t landed awkwardly in one of my water butts, but was lurking around in the undergrowth. Despite its young age, it was remarkably big—and not something to mess with. But there was no way it could escape the garden, there being no easy flight path for it. I managed to capture it and release it in the back alley, where it may have been able to reconnect with its parent or at least take off. Whether it did or not I don’t know, but I noticed two days later there was in the middle of the road outside the house a dead young Herring Gull, laid down as if it had just given up, there being no sign of injury. So that’s my nature notes. At the present time my only wish is not to wake up at three or four in the morning only to discover yet again that at this time of the year Herring Gulls never go to sleep but wail, cry, cluck, click, shriek and generally bad mouth each other all night long. Apparently, it’s called mating.
+There’s been at least two power cuts since Johnson became PM. Maybe there’s been more—after all, unless they've happened down south they don’t merit much attention from the London-centric media. Of course Johnson isn’t to blame personally, yet. But during the last heatwave, some French nuclear power stations were turned off, because of the temperature of their cooling water supply, drawn from rivers (all our nuclear power stations are on the coast). As I recall, about eight per cent of UK electricity comes from France. So when (not if) we get a serious, long heatwave, who will the French prioritise for their dwindling electricity generation? Not us, least of all after Brexit. But Brexiteers will cry ‘they’re contracted to supply us, so we’ll take them to court!’ I wonder which court that might be? The European Court of Justice perhaps? Actually, I think I will blame Johnson for the power cuts—whilst I’ve still got the power to do so.
+The same charlatan has shaken the money tree again and found the cash, he promises, to create 10,000 new prison places. Are these going to house the rioters who will follow post-Brexit food shortages? Or will some places be set aside for the children of migrants?
+I am enjoying the latest Scandi-noir on BBC4, Beneath The Surface. It is gripping viewing, and will, it has to be said, appeal to our two most common Western prejudices: Islam and Russia. Looks like they’re in league with each other.
+The editor of American Counterpunch, Jeffrey St Clair’s weekly column of political snippets has dug up an old Bird and Fortune sketch from 1996 which neatly encapsulates the Brexiteer’s point of view. Well worth watching. It’s good to know that some Americans appreciate the British sense of humour. It augurs well for our trade negotiations with Trump, when we submit humbly and get walked all over.
I can’t fully understand the right-wing response to climate change. Reading a story in the Christian Science Monitor, which reported some remarks by fellows of the U.S. ‘think tank’ the Heartland Institute—part funded by the infamous Koch brothers of fossil fuel fame—you are asked to believe that climate change is a socialist plot designed to overthrow capitalism. ‘“It’s a climate delusion. It’s a climate collusion,” James Taylor, a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, told an audience of around 250 gathered at the Trump International Hotel in Washington for the institute’s 13th International Conference on Climate Change in late July.’ (CSM here) George W. Bush once said the Chinese (those capitalist communists) were behind it. Trump now has the ‘Squad’ of four Democrat Congresswomen in his sights, led down the Green New Deal path by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). They are the latest vanguard of socialism in the U.S., out to destroy the American way of life if you believe Trump and his fellow tax dodging billionaires.
But why should climate change policies (as opposed perhaps to climate change itself) pose a threat to capitalism? Renewable energy for example merely offers more opportunities for investment and indeed profit. The price of solar panels and wind turbines has dropped dramatically but consumers may be left wondering why their energy bills don’t reflect that. Part of the problem is that the capitalist approach never had to account for the external costs of its activities—the despoliation of nature or the consequences of inequality. These things don’t ordinarily appear on the balance sheet and so have been ignored—until now. But isn’t capitalism supposed to welcome ‘destructive creativity’ (or is that creative destruction, I’m not sure which)? Climate change suggests an abundance of new opportunities, of new industries, and simply, e.g. in carbon offsetting, of new ways of ‘adding value’ to existing, deleterious behaviour.
What the antediluvian capitalists of the Heartland Institute and fellow climate change deniers lack is the one thing I thought capitalists were supposed to possess in abundance: imagination. They are fixated on the past and their current revenue streams, as if these were fixed for all time. As if that was the history of capitalism! On the other hand, I’m sure they would welcome a good war. That’s a feature of history that has been around for all time.
I suggested a few days ago that the original, native Americans should be able to form their own, sovereign nation on the North American continent, perhaps taking over the Dakotas (or wherever else they were chased out of) - on the same principle that saw the creation of Israel. So I was pleasantly surprised to read an interview on the FiveThirtyEight website with a guy who thought that the United States should (or indeed would inevitably) be broken up into separate countries. The suggestion arises for mainly domestic reasons, but wouldn’t the break up of the U.S. not have international advantages too? The U.S. seeks to be a monopoly, and prides itself on its self-image as a ‘good guy’ maintaining the liberal order. We all know the reality behind that. But since Trump seems to believe that the E.U. should fall apart, why shouldn’t we reciprocate? The break-up of discongruous states has been a post war trend, from the Soviet Union through Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Sudan, quite possibly the U.K, Spain, Canada, Belgium and others, perhaps including China which should at least free Tibet and stop eyeing up Taiwan. The desire for autonomy seems fairly universal, and the U.S. has its own variation of this theme with the anti-Washington ‘States’ Rights’ constitutional claim. How different the world would look if north of Mexico and south of the 49th parallel there existed 49 separate countries. It would still leave two or three of them in the G20.
I am currently reading a book called New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future by James Bridle (Verso 2018).
Despite all our modern luxuries and conveniences, I am not sure that we ever moved very far out of the previous ‘dark age.’ What made us think that we had? Yes, flush toilets, penicillin, air travel and international art biennales have all contributed to our glowing self-satisfaction with the new world order. But how far do you have to poke beneath the surface to find that things are just as basic—and venal—as before? We are probably as close to nuclear war as we have been for some time, though of course that will be up to governments that we look down upon. We face the return of diseases we temporarily got a grip on, but are now facing a time without the benefit of suitable drugs to control them. The threat multiplier of climate change throws all happy descriptions of our blossoming, civilised future into doubt. That’s already happening, and as somebody pointed out the models were wrong—they were too conservative. Has greed diminished in the last millennium? War? Poverty? Inequality? Torture?
Thinking of the people who live below the dam—a metaphor for our age—it seems to be a case of just waiting to see whether a crisis can be avoided. What would you think if you were threatened with arrest if you didn’t leave your flood threatened home for an unspecified period? Whatever happens to the population living in the shadow of the Toddbrook reservoir near Whaley Bridge, which may or may not collapse tonight, they will notice their properties becoming uninsurable, or if they can insure, they may have to pay a hefty premium. In this age, what happens to insurance is, as it were the canary in the mine. Insurance is a collective (almost socialist) expression of faith in the future, i.e. that whatever happens we will be able jointly to cover our risks in some benign point in the future. This belief is going to be sorely tested as time goes by, and with it the idea that we can collectively take a shared responsibility for our individual wellbeing.
I am not, of course saying that all is bleak about human nature—the adversities that will befall our species as a result of its current profligacy will certainly lead to astonishing feats of human compassion. But the opposite is also true, and I suspect as the saying goes, the devil has all the best tunes.
I don’t see a huge amount of political effort going into the development of a sustainable, human future. And where that does exist in an embryonic stage, e.g. in the approach of Jeremy Corbyn, it is antithetical to the current design of our society. Some people think that technology alone will save us, almost like Hitler believed a war-winning wonder weapon was just around the corner. And look what happened to him.
Perhaps Trump is not a climate change denier after all, but is actually doing his best to tackle the problem, just in such a way that no-one notices his true intent. Fantasy of course, but if his trade war with China hits that country’s economy hard, then it could have the knock-on effect of reducing China’s increasing use of fossil fuels. This growth accounts for half of the global increase in fossil fuels.
The chart illustrates how despite all the talk and international hand-wringing, we’re still well on our way to hell. The chart comes from an excellent analysis by Barry Saxifrage in Canada’s National Observer—the whole article is worth reading, especially if you were feeling optimistic after the Paris Agreement and need a reality check. There are some good signs, however. The E.U. including the UK is cutting the use of fossil fuels. Surprisingly so has Russia, even whilst that country is seeking to exploit opened-up Arctic oil and gas reserves.
Developing countries, with India in the lead, sniff a scent of a colonialist attitude towards their fossil fuel based growth. Unless the old, industrialised economies do more to aid the shift to renewable energy globally, and not just at home, then developing countries will have a point. As somebody once said, we’re all in this together.
I'm supporting a campaign by Humanists UK to get rid of 'collective acts of worship' in schools. Most opinion polls now show that non-religious people are in the majority in the UK, so the question is why do we still have this crude ceremony in our schools? If it's meant to indoctrinate, then it clearly hasn't worked. What, I wonder might the effect on a child's mind be if she were told that God had instructed her father to kill her? Or do school assemblies only include the happy clappy Bible stories? Please sign the petition.