I confess to not having blogged much these last few days. Each day seems the same, and the ‘news’ is unrelentingly the same as it was the day before. August used to be the height of the silly season, but it looks like nobody can rise to silliness anymore, or at least they can’t outdo the UK government in those stakes and I think, nay fear that this government’s ineptitude is something which people have just gotten used to. Everything Johnson and Co. do is just discounted as what’s expected of them. Nobody has great expectations. It is with pleasure therefore that I can link you here www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjPA8ZwW5fU&feature=youtu.be to my latest blockbuster Contact Adhesive (Dance with Me), a film which, dare I say, deserves the Palm d’or whenever Cannes meets again.
Burn after reading
I am currently reading a book by Jeff Halper, who heads the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, called War Against The People: Israel, the Palestinians and global pacification (Pluto, 2015). For anyone who was bemused (to say the least) by Labour’s so-called ‘anti-Semitism crisis’ this book is essential reading. Deeply researched and highly objective, Halper’s book lays to rest any idea that it is wrong to criticise Israel for being a ruthless and it has to be said at times tyrannical apartheid state. These accusations of course (it must be said) do not amount to a demand for the extinguishing of that country—but merely the policies which makes it a target of much justified vilification. It also exposes the utter absurdity of the ‘two-state solution’ as talked up by the Jewish Labour Movement as if it were anything but a fig leaf for further colonial appropriation of Palestinian land. That there is such a thing as ‘Palestinian land’ is clearly contested by many Israelis, including the half a million or so who have moved their settlements on to it.
One of Israel’s great claims is that it is a democracy appearing like a mirage in the middle of a desert of autocratic, despotic (read Muslim) countries who have never held human rights in high regard, never mind democracy. They have a point. But at least we know where, e.g. Saudi Arabia stands, or possibly the United Arab Emirates (with whom Israel has now established diplomatic relations). At least you can’t accuse Mohammed Bin Salman of being beholden to the democratic myth making machine. His opponents are beaten but not at the ballot box (maybe just in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, allegedly with the assistance of an Israeli developed cyber spy technology—check out search terms NSO and Khasshogi). What’s worse? A clear, brutal dictatorship indulged by the West for its oil, or a stand-out democracy that serves practically as the 51st state of the USA (a statehood some lefties used to ascribe to the UK)?
Israel has played its public relations well over the decades, and is now alarmed that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has gained some limited traction in the West. BDS is not a substantial threat to Israel at the moment, but with the heightened sensitivities, nay paranoia of the likes of Netanyahu, his government has stepped up its lobbying and influencing activities to ensure that critics’ reputations are sullied or preferably destroyed.
But what has Israel got to defend in terms of its decades' long persecution of the Palestinians? I was struck by this quote from an advisor to the Israeli government as recently as 2006, when Hamas had just won an election (an election!) in Gaza. Dov Weisglass said ‘The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.’ (Halper, p. 158) This was in the context of a wider blockade of Gaza. A punishment which continues.
Israel’s much vaunted status as the only democracy in the middle east bears little scrutiny, if you are a Palestinian living in territory which is now no-man’s land –land which can be, and is, ripped from under you at a moment’s notice. It’s the sort of thing which would enrage a Surrey villager if some developer came along and said the field next door was to be developed for housing (government proposals on planning will soon put a stop to their silly complaints.) But if that Surrey villager thought it would be good to organise a protest how I wonder would they feel if they had to deal with the crushing Israeli military rules governing protest in the occupied territories? Here’s Israeli military rule 101—forbidding ‘meetings of 10 or more persons ‘where the subject concerns or is related to politics.’’ Punishment: up to 10 years in prison. You’re not even allowed to possess artwork. (Halper, p.163).
Halper’s book is essential reading, and not just because of the Palestinian issue. One thing I’m sure of is that it is not a book that the likes of Margaret Hodge & Co. will have dipped into.
No time to relax
Prof. Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer perhaps now unencumbered with the trial of having to stand next to some witless government minister in a daily propaganda exercise has warned of dark days ahead, with winter appearing on the horizon. I think this time round he’s getting his oar in first and though I’m sure he wouldn’t say it, he would nevertheless like to be in a position to say ‘I told you so.’ Watching his earlier performances at the somewhat pointless No.10 briefings I formed the view that he didn’t really understand what was going on, i.e. as somebody once said in a previous high profile case of government mendacity, he was being used as ‘chaff.’ Some distance now has to be put between ‘The Science’ and what ministers loosely claim they are following. The message needs go out that The Science doesn’t have a miracle cure, still less ministers. But it’s our democratic right to believe what we want and the Conservatives still lead in the polls. Thank God there’s an alternative. Answers on a postcard please.
There you go
Has the counter revolutionary reaction set in? Biden’s poll ratings in the US are consistently ahead of Trump’s, which given Biden’s ’safety first’ persona may or may not be surprising. But it’s worth asking, since we are so often told that the United States is now so politically polarised, how well will it serve anyone to stand in the middle of the road? But it seems Biden is riding a wave of anti-Trump sentiment, so perhaps he doesn’t have to worry. It is reported widely that he has adopted some radical–ish policies on climate change, such as aspects of the Green New Deal. I wonder how much of this will survive if he is elected. His great strength is perhaps his age. If he doesn’t expect to go for two terms, he may seek to be more transformative in his one term, and there’s a chance Congress could be on his side. It has to be said (does it?) that he would be better than Trump. But who wouldn’t be?
Here our counter-revolutionary force is Sir Keir Starmer of course. He sold himself to the party membership with a loud trumpeting of Labour’s 2019 manifesto, but I suspect much of that is quietly drifting off into an autumnal smoke. Is Starmer really intent on re-nationalising the utilities? I very much doubt it. He could easily make up an excuse, e.g. the (alleged) cost after Covid wouldn’t be warranted when government finances will be under humungous pressure. Covid will provide all manner of excuses for not being radical (ironic that: the pandemic should be an opportunity for a socialist shock doctrine therapy, but I think we can already guess how that’ll go). So far as I can tell Starmer is intent on returning the Labour Party to its managerialist roots, and there’s a huge danger that yet again a great opportunity will be missed. Just as Blair missed the opportunity, that moment in time when politics really could have been reshaped. But Starmer would be better than Johnson, would he not?
+The vast bulk of the Kittiwake population on Scarborough’s Castle cliff has now left for the winter, only a handful remain. They left around the 26th August last year if my blog is anything to go by. Perhaps they left earlier this year to beat another last minute quarantine.
+Something else to think about. I read today that the Greenland ice sheet is now melting faster than it is being replenished by new snow, a process which scientists say will not stop even if we stopped all CO2 emissions tomorrow. This is what is known as a tipping point, a probably irreversible trend which for various reasons will feed on itself, compounding the challenge of climate change. Still, it will open up some great real estate opportunities. Perhaps a Trump golf resort?
+I am very disappointed. Johnson has signally missed an opportunity to deliver a major Churchillian gesture. I’m surprised nobody else has noticed, but the return of the British Expeditionary Tourist Force from France has not led our great leader to utter any inspirational rhetoric. Well, perhaps not so surprising. After all, the 1940 government at least managed to organise an armada of small boats to rescue our patriots from the stricken beaches of northern France.
+I am a retired member of the GMB and have been asked to sign a petition to help save the jobs of workers still involved in handling cash, and to stop the rush to remove ATMs everywhere. I will happily sign up to this, but I feel the horse has bolted. I haven’t used cash since March. Cash and cheques are both on the road to oblivion. What worries me is that eventually plastic will follow suit, and every transaction will have to be conducted with one’s mobile phone. At least your plastic doesn’t rely on batteries that run down.
+Typical lockdown activity: I have finally got round to arranging my DVD collection alphabetically. I like to think that I am generally a fairly discerning film viewer, so theoretically many films in my collection should be watchable at least twice. But I suspect this is not so. A film has to be bloody brilliant to be watchable twice or more. I could for example watch Dr Strangelove any number of times, but could the same be said of the entertainment provided by Mr Tarantino? Only time will tell. On the other hand, my CD and vinyl collections have been arranged alphabetically for yonks and I can listen to much of that music repeatedly. It could be argued that film is a supreme art form, but how often, about a merely good film, do you say I must watch that again?
+I read somewhere today that Benny Gantz, formerly the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), and now a politician propping up corrupt Netanyahu, hadn’t been aware that Israel and the United Arab Emirates were about to establish diplomatic relations. This on the one hand reveals how fragile the Israeli government is, but somewhat questions how a former chief of the IDF could be so ill-informed. Israel and the UAE have been militarily (positively) engaged for ages. The IDF is part and parcel of Israel’s diplomatic kitbag.
It seems like a rare occasion when a Labour MP is interviewed on the BBC on a subject which is not simply about Labour’s internal problems. Perhaps I’m listening to the wrong programmes. So it was potentially interesting to find Shadow Chancellor Annaliese Dodds being interviewed on the PM programme this evening. The question, which perhaps she had been notified of beforehand was why has the UK got a worse recession than any similar country (along with a worse death rate)? Sadly, I didn’t discern any answer at all, but merely a re-iteration of the situation with no substantial analysis, and certainly no offer of an alternative set of policies. I have to say I believe John McDonnell wouldn’t have been shy of an answer to such a straightforward economic question. The more I hear from our front bench, the less I understand what Labour now stands for. Except ‘Tories are crap!’ which hardly requires an IQ of 50 to divine.
Keeping us safe
+South Wales police have had a very slight judicial rap over the knuckles for their semi-legal use of face recognition technology, following a case brought by a guy who was merely out shopping being found (wrongly) on a ‘watch list.’ In that case, it is clear that the force’s artificial intelligence systems weren’t quite up to speed. But now we’re all wearing facemasks and the whole surveillance scheme is up the spout. Perhaps we may all be told to wear face masks with our names on them, or maybe bar codes. I’m sure there’s a technical fix for this dilemma. It could be sold on the basis of being a bees knees, world beating track and trace system. Everything the state does is merely designed to keep us safe.
+John Swinney, the SNP’s education minister has offered a fulsome apology following the downgrading of Scottish A-level results (that was yet another successful algorithmic exercise). But his apology will do little harm to the SNP who will be able to claim they are at least being honest. It sounded quite refreshing compared to what we have to put up with south of the border.
+And in another day of breathless news, the Russians have it seems launched a Covid-19 vaccine, appropriately named ’Sputnik-5.’ Apparently Putin’s daughter has already taken the vaccine (shades of John Gummer here). Whether or not the drug works safely is clearly an issue, but hey—Russian athletes did pretty well in the Olympics didn’t they? Perhaps the same expertise is at play here. And surely Donald Trump will want to be first in the queue to order a few billion shots of it? Will there be a deal? Could this be Putin’s opportunity to save Trump’s re-election hopes?
A job application
I am watching less TV these days. This runs against the grain of the reported national average of 6.5 hours a day thanks to more people staying at home during the Covid-19 lockdown. What I have found is that a combination of staying in more, combined with Brexit doom is that I am much more inclined to only watch things with subtitles. The latest BBC4 Saturday night foreign TV slot was filled with The Last Wave, a French series of barely credible nonsense (unravel that). This is the only way one hears foreign languages now, a small compensation for not being able to visit foreign lands. Belgium I note is off limits again. I hope the Belgian TV industry gets its act together and makes a third series of Salamander, this time focused around my favourite bar in Bruges. It would be a small compensation for not being there. I would happily play a bit part as a British villain, although I imagine the competition for such a role would be tough.
An inflatable problem solved
The government is considering using the military to do something about the influx of refugees crossing the Channel on their inflatables. The idea is being touted by the Tory chair of the Defence Select Committee, Tobias Ellwood MP. Pritti Patel is on board, unsurprisingly. But perhaps a different approach is called for. A policy based on the principle ‘you invade us, we’ll invade you.’ Many of the refugees are coming from countries we have ‘saved’ - Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. Trouble and strife in former colonies (e.g. Uganda and now Hong Kong) were no barriers to migration to the UK (in both those cases under Tory governments). The policy could be called ‘Reap what you sow.’ It might help future British governments think twice before embarking on military adventures.