Evel Knievel, the stunt motorcyclist famous for his very long jumps, once teased that he would attempt to jump the Grand Canyon. I’m sure that with the right team and crucially the right calculations he would have attempted it. It would have been worth a fortune, a life and death adventure live on TV. But perhaps he didn’t in the end try it because he discovered that his team had worked out that he only had a 75% chance of landing on the other side. This is not to say that his team wouldn’t have done their best, adding bits of chrome (so to speak) to all the televisual parts and maybe even tuning the carburettors to maximum performance and oiling the launch pad like never before. All this activity would have produced a marvellous show of effort (and a TV series in itself) and everybody would have said ‘We’ll get a result’ - and a 75% chance won’t be too bad.’ Except poor Evel smashes into the bottom of the Grand Canyon and dies, because there’s no escaping the fact that 100% was absolutely required.* Even 99% would have been dodgy.
COP26 is aiming for 60%. Anyone for tea?
* Evel didn't attempt this jump and didn't die (well not straightaway).
Not so long ago, as reported exclusively on this website, hotels in Scarborough, a town which abuts the cold, grey waters of the North Sea were being advertised with an alluring picture of a luxury villa overlooking a beautiful tropical landscape and the blue waters of perhaps the South Pacific. I am pleased to report now that so successful was that ad that Scarborough’s skyline has rocketed with new hotels many stories high. Yes, you can believe everything you read on the internet! (Not to mention the Daily Express which I throw in for good measure.)
John Sopel, the BBC’s North America News Editor on the news last night described the problems Joe Biden was having getting climate change measures past ‘moderate’ Democrats. Thus a ‘moderate’ is somebody like Senator Joe Manchin, the in-hock-to-coal retard from West Virginia. Where does that leave Joe Biden? Is he now a hard-leftist Corbyn-style loony? Perhaps it was a slip of the tongue, given that most people would describe Biden as being ‘moderate’ to his roots (if not out-and-out rightwing, judging by his record). Language matters, Mr Sopel, tidy up your act! Joe Manchin is not a moderate—he’s basically holding the world to ransom for his local fossil fuel buddies. What’s moderate about that? The Guardian uses slightly different language—Manchin is described as a ‘centrist’ in its columns. In which case let's all damn ‘moderates’ and ‘centrists’ - they are the new scum (as Labour Party deputy leader, Angela Rayner now wouldn’t say, having apologised for describing Tories in such terms). Do these labels matter? They certainly do, if they set the bounds of acceptability. I must now apologise for describing Senator Joe Manchin as a 'retard.' I was merely being polite.
The growing row between the UK and France over fishing rights around and about the Channel Islands, post-Brexit will serve Johnson’s government very well in the short term. Britain beating the ‘Frogs’ always plays well with the rabid right wing press, giving the consumers of this garbage the chance to puff themselves up with patriotic fervour, with fond memories of Horatio Nelson to the fore. Fishing is an inconsequential economic issue, but has an emotional appeal when it comes to ‘protecting our precious bodily waters’ (like something out of Dr Strangelove). So for Johnson this is a low cost chance to breast beat about getting Brexit done, seeing off Johnny Foreigner and when and as necessary sending in a little Royal Navy boat or two to show who’s boss. It is, in other words, mere political theatre. One of the ironies, to me at least, is that the Channel Islands, much closer to France than England, rejoice in their offshore tax haven status and contribute bugger all to the British economy. They’re taking us for a ride. Perhaps the French have their agenda too, Macron on this issue may be the mirror image of Johnson. The problem here is that he holds more cards than we do. We might think our island status confers many advantages, but they’ll evaporate if Macron gets tough. Close the ports. Shut down the electricity interconnector. All for the sake of a handful of fishing boats. If Johnson were an adult, he might see the need for co-operation. But that wouldn’t play well with his cheerleaders.
This spat is redolent of a longstanding rivalry, of course. I remember Margaret Beckett, Labour’s one-time foreign secretary, jokingly telling the Parliamentary Labour Party that the UK would never give up its ’nuclear deterrent’ as long as the French kept theirs. Imagine the headlines! She was only half-joking.
+I’ve come to the conclusion that the cosy division of historical periods taught in my secondary school years is, not to put too fine a point on it, all bollocks. The trouble is that what one learns in early youth can linger for a long time. So talk of the ‘Dark Age’ and ‘Middle Age,’ ‘Enlightenment’ etc. can be safely put to one side. There is no such easy differentiation between one century and another which tells us that this or that time was more endowed with civilised properties than any other. I wonder what people (should there be any) in 3,000 CE will call our period? I think ‘post-Roman’ could stand the test of time. It is still in living memory after all that we were slaughtering each other with great abandon for ideals such as racial superiority and territorial gain. If any noun is absolutely necessary I would say we are still in a medieval period, with imperialism thrown in. But being post-modernist, ours is a society where we can imagine a better civilisation but have not yet achieved the means of attaining it.
+Back in 2004 I proposed a bill to introduce tradable energy quotas, or Domestic Tradable Quotas as they were then known, to limit our emissions of carbon dioxide. The idea didn’t catch on. Too difficult. Voters wouldn’t like it. The Daily Mail would go apeshit. Could this all be about to change? Apprentice National Treasure, Joanna Lumley, in this morning’s Guardian, is reported saying “That was how the war was: stuff was rationed and at some stage I think we might have to go back to some kind of system of rationing, where you’re given a certain number of points and it’s up to you how to spend them, whether it’s buying a bottle of whiskey or flying in an aeroplane.” Coupled with fully accredited National Treasure Sir David Attenborough’s telling Today listeners this morning that if COP26 fails then ’it’s too late’ I wonder if we’re on to something?
Despite getting my flu jab today, I can see that I have caught a disease, which I think is probably terminal. This is an affliction which I guess is endemic amongst an older age group, and it’s called Iveseenitallbeforitisedystopia. Which is to say that the news becomes one long repetitious déja vu experience where everything gets repeated, as in the weak get weaker, the poor get poorer, earthquakes happen, politicians lie and dissemble, prices go up, scams and rip-offs continue unabated, people kill each other, parliamentary inquiries find that mistakes were made, dogs are stolen, fantastic meteor showers can be seen if you’re up at 1am but it’s always cloudy, the Sunni/Shia schism still infects world politics, Keir Starmer is still leader of the Labour Party, alcohol is not as bad for you as previously thought, it’s worse—the list goes on and on. All you have to do now is read the headline and you’ve got the whole story, because in your long life you’ve seen it all before. With age of course comes all the answers. Maybe this is why old farts are so irritating. It begs the question whether we should all vote for elderly politicians because by definition they will know best. I think there’s something in it. Vote for me and my zimmer frame, we got the tee shirt 50 years ago. And of course we can still remember Gladstone who became PM on his third outing at the age of 103. I jest of course. That’s only eight years older than our current head of state and actually I believe Gladstone was a mere 88 on his third elevation to the top job. Now, where was I . . . . .?
I hope to spend a couple of days at the COP26 meeting in Glasgow. To ensure that my attendance has some purpose, I will be dishing out a leaflet promoting Contraction and Convergence, in what will probably be a vain attempt to get people to think about what is missing from the whole shebang—that is a framework that imposes discipline on the ‘battle’ against climate change. I put the word battle in inverted commas to make the point that as a report yesterday from the UN shows, nations are still investing more in fossil fuels than clean energy. The UK is one of the worst offenders. It is reported coincidentally that Brazil's Bolsanaro could be indicted for crimes against humanity because of his non-response to Covid. Perhaps similar indictments need to be launched against all those political charlatans who are holding up or diluting action on climate change.
“State pension: Britons forced to wait longer for free bus pass after rule change”
“1.6 million pension savers to be hit with 55% tax charge amid Sunak's freeze on allowances”
+For some reason the Microsoft news feed features quite a lot of rubbish from the Daily Express. Here we have two leading headlines from today. Both stories are basically true, so perhaps I am being overly harsh calling them rubbish. What is rubbish is the inability of this right wing rag to put two and two together. The government is reducing the eligibility for pensioners’ bus passes because it wants to save money (and probably doesn’t think they deserve them anyway) and at the same time it is desperately trying to raise revenue in ways it hopes nobody will notice. So yes, if you have a pension pot of over a million quid you may have to pay a bit more tax (it won’t amount to much) on your pension savings, but if you’re a poor pensioner you will probably be proportionately better off with a bus pass. So the Express’s stance is to pretend to be on the side of the poor pensioner and on the side of the rich pensioner whilst offering no solution as to how the government might raise the cash to help the poor pensioner. It’s the sort of populist claptrap, also found in the other Tory papers which helps sustain the Big Tory Lie (e.g. levelling up, we’re all in it together, we’re on your side).
+The horrific murder of David Amess was a shock. Is this sort of thing going to become more frequent in the UK? Who or what is stoking up this murderous climate? Some blame social media, and I think that may be a reasonable charge, especially in cases of radicalisation and indeed in other forms of harm, such as teenage suicides. But it reminds me of the Mary Whitehouse argument that increased sex and violence on TV was having a deleterious effect on society—was that ever proven to be the case? It is my theory that in the case of ‘terrorist’ murders, many (if not most) of the perpetrators will already be deranged. How else to describe somebody who kills complete strangers? Perhaps they ’hear the voice of God’ or have some other personality disorder which compels them to do what they do. I am sure that the latest ’terror’ killer will now be examined by pyschiatrists. I would love to see ’social’ media reined in, but we will have to face the fact that there will always be deranged people out there. Perhaps we should adopt Sgt Stan Jablonski’s (Hill Street Blues) dictum ‘Let’s do it to them before they do it to us.’ But I’m not sure how that could be achieved in a civilised way.
+I was away last week enjoying a grand tour of the north of England. What a splendid place it is.
I confess to having had to steel myself to read ‘The Road Ahead,’ Keir Starmer’s essay on What Is To Be Done. I picked up a copy of said pamphlet at the party conference last week. It was light in weight and content. Naturally, much of it deals with the failures of the Tory government. There’s lots to go at there, and much criticism to agree with. But it’s not just about the Tories is it, Keir? What lies underneath the Tories, what is the underlying economic system that promotes them? Not a word. It’s as if all we have to do to fix the system is change parties at the next election, rather than change the system. In other words, we will be better managers of capitalism (a word Keir steers clear of entirely) and simply by being a partner of private business everything will be rosy. Does this mean we accept Boris Johnson’s claim that capitalism was the driving force behind the Covid vaccine, rather than taxpayer funded research? Does it mean that Keir believes in more privatisation of the NHS?
He talks about the ‘contribution society’ and how ‘hard’ working people must be rewarded, but offers no suggestions as to how the meritless non-hard working people (e.g crony capitalists, hedge fund vultures, offshore tax haven devotees, etc., etc.) should be penalised, or indeed eradicated. His approach sounds like we’re all going to be slightly better off, but wage slaves nonetheless. But in what must be seen as a repudiation of the Blair/Brown years, Keir tells us that “We would start with a promise to ensure we buy, make and sell in Britain” and “All major infrastructure projects currently in the pipeline would be reviewed to ensure we maximise the use of British materials and firms.” Gone, then, are the days of global free trade so beloved of New Labour, the only way to go, as Blair would have had us believe. I imagine that Blair, being the same age as me will remember the days of earlier ‘Buy British’ marketing campaigns. I recall one such from the 1960s—it was a spectacular failure. I wonder, now that we are all focused on supply chains and ‘just in time’ how exactly we will be able to rebuild a purely British manufacturing base, since the word ‘infrastructure’ points more to things than services. For some reason the French and the Chinese seem to be the only people capable of building our new nuclear power stations. Are they to be shown the door? (Yes please, and let that be the end of new nuclear power stations, which as shown by Amory Lovins in a recent Counterpunch article are of no use in the battle against climate change)
How do we ensure we buy, make and sell in Britain? The flipside to such a patriotic pursuit must surely be some form of protectionism. Is a touch of Trump creeping in here? Should we raise tariffs on Chinese goods? How would that go down with the British consumer? If we are to resile from globalisation it would be better to say how it can be achieved, rather than simply sloganise. Gordon Bown’s ‘British jobs for British workers’ also rang hollow.
+Careful film editing of the BBC’s news coverage of the Tory Party conference gave the impression of a full to capacity conference hall, even showing a clip of stewards trying to get people into an already rammed venue. There were no panning shots of the audience as a whole, but only a series of close-ups and low angle shots. But it was clear that there was no balcony filled with supporters—just black spaces where curtains had been drawn. The Labour Party only drew the curtains on one and a bit of the balconies in the Brighton Centre. Hurray! We’re winning!
+A comment on another BBC programme about Blair and Brown referencing the Clinton victory in 1992 annoyed me—that he had won a ‘landslide’ in the US presidential election. Not quite. He won a landslide in the electoral college, but not in the popular vote. Little attention is given to the fact that third party candidate, millionaire Ross Perot took 19% of the vote—likely most damaging the support for Republican incumbent H.W. Bush. In fairness, Clinton did just manage to win 0.1% more of the vote than his chief rivals in 1996 but without the Perot factor in 1992 there may never have been a President Clinton, and the Democrats’ famous ‘modernising’ influence on New Labour may have been somewhat curtailed.