From October through December I have a modest exhibition celebrating all of Yorkshire’s lighthouses at the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre. This comprises a photo and sketch of each of them, 16 in all. These stretch from the very north eastern tip of the historic county of Yorkshire at the mouth of the Tees, down to Whitgift, near the confluence of the Ouse and the Trent. I began this project originally as part of my MA in Fine Art (now completed with, ermm, distinction) but in the end chose to do something else on that front. So having the chance to mount this small display in an appropriate setting is satisfying. My brief re-acquaintance with studentship has thankfully expired before the onslaught of a new Covid wave. I don’t envy today’s students at all. No parties! No vomiting! No intimate contact!
+If it is the case that Trump has used tax avoidance schemes to minimise his liabilities, I do hope that all those dumbos who vote for him in November also demand that his presidential salary is withheld. If Trump doesn’t believe in the benefits of taxation, then he shouldn’t receive any such benefits if he’s not willing to contribute. Indeed, he should be charged rent for his stay in the White House, use of Air Force One, etc., etc.
+It can only be a matter of degree what the difference is between the Department of Education issuing guidance to schools about not teaching ‘anti-capitalism’ and China’s security laws imposed on Hong Kong. The system reigns supreme and must not be challenged.
+Even some Tory backbenchers are getting a bit uneasy about this government’s authoritarian shift, with all the Ministerial dictats being handed down without parliamentary scrutiny (and how many more times do we have to witness Labour backing all the government’s incompetent measures?). At the same time as we are supposed to be tested for the virus, we’re also being told we could be fined £10,000 for not self-isolating after a positive test. I can see a rush of people wanting to get tested! And what if, as seems likely in many cases, your test produces a false positive? Does that mean you’ll get your money back?
Another tome under the belt. It must be something to do with the onset of Autumn. This time I have devoured (if not fully digested) Martin Hägglund’s This Life: Why Mortality Makes Us Free, published last year and obtained from a stack of remainders in Ken Spelman’s York bookshop before lockdown (how I miss going there). Hägglund, a Yale University professor, who was born in Sweden brings a questioning knowledge to his subject which is more than impressive. Marx features heavily in this account of how we could better understand and live our lives. Along the way there is analysis of other philosophers as long as your arm. The two central themes are religion and capitalism, and their fateful influence on our idea of ourselves, as well as their interconnectedness. Hägglund’s exploration of the myths which sustain religions is devastating, so much more so than one finds in Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (which I nevertheless deeply enjoyed reading and recommend to anybody interested in learning about the self-delusions of religion). As the title suggests, Hägglund’s book is about life, which is to say the only form of existence we can ever know. He exhaustively demolishes the concept of such ideas as an afterlife of eternal bliss, and even Buddhist concepts of basically self-annihilation do not escape his analytical gaze. The interesting thing is, he nevertheless throughout the book talks of a spiritual life, which is something that makes us distinct from amoeba. He finds that this spiritual life is rooted in secular faith and goes so far as to suggest that much religious faith is simply a form of dressed-up secular faith, inspired by needs which are purely human and are not divine.
An excellent read, and a challenge to the left too, given his Marxist dissection of much leftist talk of the redistribution of the proceeds of capitalism. In short, there can be no successful ‘redistribution’ of wealth under a capitalist system, and as such ‘social democracy’ as opposed to democratic socialism is doomed to failure as it always seeks to accommodate the root cause of inequality. Could this be why when, as in 2008, the banks were the first to be bailed out in a ‘social democratic’ system? Hägglund finds luminaries like Theodor Adorno and Thomas Piketty falling short, since they do not seem to recognise that the values of capitalism are inimical to the revaluation of life’s potential and always will be. Hägglund does not mention the concept of ‘late’ capitalism, currently a wishful thinking trend on the left. It cannot have escaped our notice, surely, that capitalism is in the process of destroying the environment and thus everything that sustains us. There is no meaningful dream of a redemptive ‘late’ capitalism, only end capitalism. ‘Late’ capitalism does not I’m afraid provide the scent of any alternative which could be considered viable in the diminishing window of opportunity now before us.
I concluded a recent book review (Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics by Peter Geoghegan) for Lobster magazine saying I thought democracy couldn’t be fixed. It is of course fixed, but not repaired. Reading the latest from FiveThirtyEight today about how Trump is preparing to usurp the ‘greatest democracy on earth’ bolsters my view that whatever we think democracy means, it doesn’t mean delivering the will of the people. I can anticipate the counterblast straightaway—a ‘majority’ voted for Brexit and that’s what we’re getting. It bears repeating of course that a majority of the UK electorate didn’t vote for Brexit, and that when complex questions are corseted in binary choices few people will actually exercise control over what subsequently happens. But democracy isn’t just about voting every four or five years (where have I heard that before?). Democracy ought to be about access and influence over the powers that be over a period of time. The legitimacy of a government can evaporate within months of its election but then for four or five years the public can just be bystanders. I think we are seeing this already with the Johnson government. As opposed to the Major government there may not be a single, defining moment when the game is seen to be up, but a steady drip feed of incompetence nevertheless is wearing down confidence—even it seems amongst its own backbenchers. And yet Johnson’s government still out polls the Labour Party. That’s a thought for another day, but I wonder whether there is any way in which voters generally could be tasked with taking their ‘democracy’ more seriously? And if the answer is no, then we revert back to the old wisdom of ‘you get what you vote for’ or ‘it doesn’t matter who you vote for the government always wins.’ Ken Livingstone wrote a book called (if memory serves) ‘If voting ever changed anything they would abolish it.’ Clearly he didn’t quite believe that himself, since he stood for election many times at many levels, but a point is made. The battle currently underway in the US is all about which party will gain the advantage in e.g. the electoral college or the Supreme Court and this will arouse emotions and possibly lead to violence. But whichever way the result goes, how much difference will there be made? Will Biden do what’s necessary to tackle, e.g. climate change? How will he respond to the industrial lobbies? Will our much sought super free trade deal with the US export our food standards to them (Ho-ho)? Will the US stop interfering in other countries’ affairs (cue more laughter)?
The current period is perhaps a time when one wouldn’t envy anybody in government. Most of what they do will be castigated. They will get things wrong so often as to seem utterly incompetent. In the case of the Johnson government this sense is of course borne out by abundant evidence that they actually are incompetent. But such a period also presents opportunities, which is to say government can do other stuff which will largely pass under the radar and not get the attention it deserves. The creeping (at pace) privatisation of the NHS, with the letting of contracts for services to unqualified private providers is proceeding without barely a check. Another example is the biggest shake-up of local authorities since the 1972 Local Government Act. This will lead to the creation of scores of new unitary authorities, most under the control of elected mayors.
I’m in favour of unitary authorities as it happens—locally elected bodies which deliver all local services. But what kind of authorities will they turn out to be? Mere vassals of central government edicts? Since in the current circumstances there is so little discussion of the subject, which is probably regarded as too arcane (even by the 30% or so who vote in local elections) we will be excluded. The shape and character of these new councils will be determined by ministers. There must also be the worry that the ‘efficiencies’ the new single authorities are expected to make will provide cover for another round of austerity. At least I dare say that the changes will be expected to be self-financing. The icing on the cake will be that some of the new bodies will want new buildings in new locations. Reforms such as this cannot always be recognised as happening unless there’s a shiny new office building project to go with it (which is what happened back in the seventies).
Here in North Yorkshire, England’s largest county, the county council believes it is best placed to be a unitary authority. The smaller districts prefer a two council solution, one of which would include the current unitary authority of York. Apparently this all has to be sorted out by the time of the May, 2021 local elections. So the public are just passive bystanders. An opportunity is being missed to involve people, but hey—it’s all a bit boring isn’t it?
+Supporting my local library, I took out two DVDs the other day, which they very kindly let me borrow for nothing due to a hiccup on the payment system. Both films were pretty depressing. The first, ‘The Survivalist’ was a post global holocaust tale of living in the woods (in Northern Ireland of all places) where human life, despite the rich woodland scenery was a matter of savagery—all portrayed in graphic detail. There was a hint of redemption at the end, but only a hint. No details were provided as to what caused the holocaust and like 'The Road' there is no happy future beckoning just around the corner, only more misery. I suspect we’ll see more films of this nature. Some of them will be factual—e.g. from the Californian conflagration. Perhaps. The second film was more explicit about the theme of redemption, and also had an apocalyptic, environmental sentiment to it. I say ‘sentiment’ since our concern for the environment at the present time does seem rather sentimental. This film, ‘First Reformed’ features a priest wrestling with his conscience and has clear Bergman overtones, the priest searching for God in a Godless world. In the end however love conquers all (even when it entails a bereaved widow tightly hugging the priest’s body by then woundingly wrapped in barbed wire). For me, choosing DVDs often comes down to seeing how many stars they’ve amassed, and both of these films were laden with critical acclaim. But during this stressful time, I am wondering whether I should just stick with Cary Grant. Having said which, I do hope that Polanski does an environmental apocalypse movie before he pops his clogs. Let’s have an environmental disaster movie with a bit of wit about it.
+By the way, I’ve run out of Lagavulin, could somebody start a crowdfunder please?
I admit to having had a former MP’s pass giving me access to the Palace of Westminster. I have used it two or three times a year since 2010. This confession has been forced out of me by an article in the Guardian this morning which says the ‘Use of passes by former MPs ‘is vulnerable to abuse.’’ This is because former MPs are ‘given access to the corridors of power.’ There is justification for concern when two MPs—both Tories—each used their passes over 80 times in one year. I think they have some explaining to do. But there is also an anomaly in that the ‘corridors of power’ are generally located across the road in Whitehall. Any corridor of power in Westminster, e.g. those where MPs' offices are located, are off limits to former MPs, unless their occupants invite them in. And serving MPs can invite anyone they like to meet them in their offices. So it would be a bit odd for any ex-MP lobbyist worth their salt to use their pass to gain entry merely on the off-chance of meeting their target. They meet by appointment. The big advantage of an ex-MPs pass is that it allows them to skip the public security queue. It should be remembered that the Houses of Parliament are still public buildings, and you don’t need an appointment to gain entry. Personally, I enjoy a return visit every now and then. I see no point in any secrecy about it (House authorities originally opposed publication of the use of passes), and I hope if there are a few ex-MPs abusing the privilege that their passes be withdrawn. There’s always bad eggs. The two Tories should be thoroughly investigated and if it is found that they used their passes in any way to further a monetary interest, their own or anyone else’s, they should be dealt with. All their behaviour does is increase the public perception that MPs, even ex-MPs, are a bunch of venal bastards eager to abuse their status.
Trump well and truly caught himself out being interviewed by Bob Woodward—on tape. He couldn’t deny what he had said about the ‘light-touch’ flu known as Covid-19, merely suggesting afterwards that he was seeking to avoid causing panic. This is as close as we are going to get, I suspect, to the humbling of this humble President. He couldn’t of course give a flying f*ck whether there was panic or not, and since no other nation has experienced Covid ‘panic’ his whistling in the wind reveals his specious argument. But the man is blessed, and he is still, I understand, strongly supported by the Christian right. To understand this, and the way people understand facts, I was taken by this sentence in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church: ‘Christian philosophers have often held that a sharp distinction must be drawn between ‘truths of reason’ and ‘truths of revelation.’ These different forms of truth underpin the ‘alternative facts’ theology of Trump’s divine mission. His messianic mission is borne aloft by revelation, and in this sense he is on a par with biblical prophesiers, whose truths could never be tested. Make our tribe great again is as old as the hills. How we’ve moved on.
+The latest idiocy launched by social media and the United States appears to be ‘gender reveal’ parties. As featured in the news, one of these in California has led to a forest fire covering 10,000 acres as a result of pyrotechnics being let off. These explode in the colour of the promised child’s sex, pink or blue. Never mind that in later life the child in question may chose something else altogether. So, even though California is currently a tinderbox, members of our species are happy to celebrate something (with suitable images gathered for social media) which nobody had dreamed of until social media came along. One should perhaps feel sorry for the children being born into such a society, with parents oblivious to the trajectory the future beckons. But how long will it be before such idiotic behaviour is introduced into the UK? Perhaps the commercialisation of ‘gender reveal’ is already taking a grip here? How about gender reveal parties on our dry moorlands, with throwaway barbecues just to make sure?
+The government has admitted that proposed alterations to its international, legally binding agreement on Northern Ireland trade will indeed breach international law. Since our surrogate Prime Minister, Mr Cummings has already signalled that the law is optional, this should come as no surprise. The signals this government sends out almost on a daily basis must certainly have an impact on people’s willingness to follow the rules (even if those rules were clear when actually they aren’t) when it comes to tackling Covid-19. Is there anybody left (outside of the Daily Mail, etc.) who believes this government has any authority left?
+I know this is going to sound a tad adolescent but I was irritated, walking back from the supermarket to be assaulted (metaphorically) by a handwritten sign outside the local Methodist church which proclaimed words to the effect ’Thank God for seeing us through’ (i.e. Covid-19). Why do I still find this kind of senseless platitude so annoying, even if I believe (as I do) that people can believe whatever nonsense they want? These words and this poster will have a minimal impact on anyone walking by, indeed most will not even notice its existence. But deep down there exists, I am sure a belief that some form of authority is in charge—even if that same authority helped unleash the current plague without any clue what it was doing (God or Johnson). If religion has to offer something positive at this time, I much prefer the bell ringing at St Mary’s Church in Scarborough on Sunday mornings. Bells are very secular no matter who rings them.
+The UK stands on the edge of a no deal ‘bonanza’ leaving the E.U. after both sides of the negotiations seem to have reached an impasse. I am wondering if we have secret input on the U.K. side, helping us along to the worst outcome. Trump publicly castigated Theresa May for not following his expert negotiating advice. Is he now advising Johnson on the next steps? It may not matter much to U.S. voters in November, but another foreign policy ‘success’ which Trump personally directed wouldn’t do him any harm either. He could have one or two pictures of Johnson slavering at his heel, chewing on a chlorinated chicken at the same time. Johnson in the frame might look like a more impressive endorsement than Farage, after all.