I'm sure we will all be shedding tears tonight over the premature ending of the Virgin/Stagecoach franchise to run the East Coast Mainline. No need here to repeat all the reasons why public ownership of the railways is better. But I am sincerely hoping that the faux jolly and schmucky Americanised lingo employed by Virgin's public image enhancement team will also disappear pronto. The prospect is AWESOME! Here's to a HEADS UP that Virgin's patronising schpeak will be GOOD TO GO and that the email from them which I received this evening headed "Can't see this email? Click here to see it in all its glory," announcing their departure will be the last! Have a nice day!!
Watching telly the other night, and the subject of black holes came up. The merger of two black holes was first detected in 2015 by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the US. A professor from Glasgow University said the merged black hole was the size of Iceland. That’s equivalent to around five times Wales, for those of us who are more familiar with the latter measurement. Sounds pretty small to me, I always imagined black holes to be huge – and some of them are indeed massively bigger than this one. But the astonishing thing is that this one has the mass of 62 of our Suns. It’s very hard to envisualise such a phenomenon. There is nothing equivalent in our everyday comprehension. The Sun is 330,000 times the mass of Earth, so this black hole, the size of Iceland is equivalent to 20,460,000 planet Earths. Should we be worried?
During a brief conversation today with my old friend, and dare I say climate change mentor Aubrey Meyer, it struck me where the current trends environmentally and politically are leading to. The great unscientific hodge-podge of a climate change agreement which was forged (the word is used advisedly) in Paris a couple of years ago is already imploding. Was it ever intended to work, or was it just a flatulent outburst of collective, insincere guilt? In London, a court case against the government rumbles on, seeking to get HMG to honour its legal obligation to adjust its carbon emission reduction targets in accordance with the science. So far, HMG has appeared reluctant to defend its complacent corner.
In the US, Trump of course is pursuing policies which deny anthropogenic climate change is happening. Globally, fossil fuels still receive more subsidies than do renewables. In the Arctic, the race to find new oil and gas reserves is on. New pipelines to get oil out of Canada’s shale oil fields are to be built. Fracking is still a government dream here in the UK. So it goes on.
As time goes by more signals are being received which tell us that climate change is now gathering pace. We don’t have to wait until 2100 to see if the predictions are true. Here are some stories from today’s Daily Climate news round-up: “Alien waters: Neighboring seas are flowing into a warming Arctic ocean;” “As warming continues, ‘hot drought’ becomes the [US] norm, not an exception;” “Pakistan has gone from water surplus to water-stressed;” “Australian farmers adapt to dry conditions, with rainfall well below normal.” These are common stories, occurring every day. Particularly in the case of warmer Pacific and Atlantic water flowing into the Arctic, they speak of the feedback mechanisms which could, or should I say probably will overtake the human contribution to climate change.
This being so, there is growing truth in the climate change deniers’ claim that climate change is not man-made. As the feedback mechanisms multiply, it won’t be much more than an academic debate as to what caused it, and as we have seen already, attempts to mitigate it will not be undertaken in earnest. Eventually, the mitigation debate will subside as efforts are concentrated on adaptation.
Adaptation has formerly referred to the steps that we will need to take to protect society – our cities, infrastructure, etc. – from such things as sea level rise, intense storms and the like. It has meant developing new strains of plants which can withstand drought, or new ways of harvesting water. But that is a benign view of the meaning of ‘adaptation.’ I think adaptation should also be taken to mean how small populations of elites will seek to insulate themselves against climate change - and the wider population of human climate change victims.
I am not sure there is much evidence that this latter form of adaptation has yet to gather pace, although it could be argued that the concept of ‘Fortress Europe’ – which repels refugees from, e.g. sub-Saharan Africa is already well in the making. We are not yet at the stage where the wealthy are building their own citadels (c.f. J.G. Ballard’s The Wind From Nowhere) or as envisioned in one scenario from a Dept. of Trade and Industry think-tank some years ago that by 2050 we would see fortified cities harking back to medieval forms of governance and defence. But developments are taking place which could point to what kind of world humans will inhabit in the not-too-distant future. And what kind of things humans themselves will be.
Let’s start with a story totally unrelated to climate change. In today’s Guardian I learnt that an American company “microchipped dozens of its workers” with chips that “can be used to open security doors, log on to computers and make payments at the company’s vending machines.” The workers ‘voluntarily’ took the implants. This could be an innocent development or a sinister one depending on your point of view, but what it does illustrate is that we have now moved into an era where humans are being fitted with electronic components which have nothing to do with their health (pacemakers have been around for years). These chips seem pretty passive, but one day it is quite conceivable that electronic implants will be fitted which are pro-active – and intelligent. It is not fantasy to suggest that human beings will one day be fitted with forms of artificial intelligence specifically designed to marry them to whatever new technologies emerge in the coming decades and century. Some of these technologies will be designed for their defence.
Yes, this all sounds very Terminator-esque. But who once would have believed that a (chipped) hand could be turned into a magic wand? Politically, such new technologies will become useful in determining your status and your power. They will distinguish between who is in and who is out – a bit like an old Home Office landing card index perhaps. But they extend much further than that, and will be responsive to the new demands made by a climate changed world. I will return to the subject shortly in another blog.
I was saddened to hear of Tessa Jowell’s death, at the age of 70. I can’t say I had any dealings with her during my nine years as an MP – there wasn’t any pressing need for me to lobby her, and anyway I often thought (a little self-destructively perhaps) that New Labour in the noughties had little time for my kind of input. But her death coincides with my reading Natural Causes, Life, Death and the Illusion of Control by Barbara Ehrenreich, and her book serves as a timely reminder that we are not entirely in control of our body's destiny. Indeed, for all the remedies available, even the best – a righteous life (physical workouts, proper exercise, good diet, no wanking, constant prayer, self-flagellation, etc) won’t save you. This sounds disrespectful. But Natural Causes tells us that our own bodies have no respect for us. They have their own destiny and there’s bugger all we can do about it, even if the inevitable can be delayed or ameliorated for a short while. I have every sympathy with Tessa’s last campaign about cancer treatment, and god knows if the big C (as it was once known) were to befall me I wouldn’t be happy – but something is always going to get us, and it would be as well to acknowledge that.
What Natural Causes has taught me is that my body – which strangely emerges as not even ‘my own’ – is a universe of happenings and divergent contests which regardless of the idea of ‘self’ will pursue their own course towards inevitable destruction. The only question actually is how long this process is likely to take, NOT that it won’t. But hey – what’s molecular biology got to do with anything? Your brave battle with cancer – which we’re told is what we have to have – sadly has very little impact on the millions of macrophages that are traitorously assisting cancerous cells kill our essential organs, etc., etc. I don’t want to hear how brave people can be in these circumstances. It would be healthier to acknowledge these circumstances. Perhaps I’ve just crossed a line.
For those of us who have followed, and enjoyed the Belgian crime drama Salamander the final episode may have come as something of a disappointment. Sometimes in these noir imports I wish they would leave all the loose threads loose, and leave us wondering what the hell went on. The idea that a Belgian PM would connive in the blood diamond trade in order to raise two billion Euros to rescue a bankrupt ‘people’s bank’ is risible. What’s wrong with just sprinkling a bit of quantitative easing around, or even straight nationalisation a la Gordon Brown? Other implausibilities abounded, like in the scene where Cappell and Gerardi meet to handover the film – why leave your cars two hundred yards apart, providing a clear shot for a sniper? But the ride in the first nine episodes was enjoyable. Now we need something where the plot isn’t resolved. Brexitmander. There's something to work on. Gripping, too.
I hope the following is self-explanatory. It's an email sent today to the Chief Executive of OFCOM.
Dear Ms White,
It wasn't my original intention to write to you directly, but the dearth of e-mail addresses on the OFCOM website has made it difficult to contact OFCOM by any other e-mail address. As a by-the-by, you may wish to consider the possibility that people might wish to write to OFCOM whilst not making a complaint - that appears to be the only kind of correspondence your website encourages.
I am writing regarding the OFCOM investigation into RT. Since this was announced, I have taken the trouble to watch RT to see what all the fuss is about. I have to say, I think it is much over-egged, possibly for political reasons. I note that the OFCOM investigation was launched after comments by the Prime Minister. She of course has no axe to grind regarding anything Russian.
I wouldn't, fresh from my experience watching RT say that it wasn't without its own perspective, but there seemed to me nothing that merits withdrawal of its broadcast licence, or even for that matter any other sanction. Indeed, it is refreshing to find views which do not necessarily ape those of the UK's mainstream media, or the UK government line, which is I am sure what the PM would wish for.
Under Paragraph 7 (b) of Annex 1 of OFCOM's statutory framework (at https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0012/113043/rt-investigations.pdf) there is reference to my right to receive information and ideas without interference. It seems to me that I can obtain these from UK mainstream media and other broadcasters without coming to harm, even if the Prime Minister thinks that I as a UK citizen may succumb to foreign 'propaganda.' It is my choice that necessarily complements the meaning of the term 'freedom of expression.'
I would like my views to be taken into account in your investigation into RT and I would appreciate an acknowledgement that such will be the case.
With best wishes
The following words in the current issue of the New York Review of Books caught my eye: “Today, the twenty richest Americans have more wealth between them than the bottom half of the US population – some 152 million people. In 1979, CEOs of America’s most successful businesses earned, on average, about thirty times as much as their workers. By 2013, they earned almost three hundred times as much. And in the thirty year period from 1979 to 2008, the top 10 percent of Americans received 100 percent of the benefits from growth in income, while the incomes of the bottom 90 percent fell.” (Article by David Cole, “Taxing the Poor” p.25)
With Donald Trump’s 2017 tax act things will only get worse, gifting the rich greater wealth and leading to a growth in the US deficit which will one day be paid for – you guessed it – by austerity targeted at the worse off. And this is the dream that the likes of Liam Fox, Jacob Ress Mogg and Boris Johnson want us to embrace. Contrast US inequality of wealth with that within the EU. According to an OECD report, wealth inequality is on the rise in the EU but remains far behind that of the US “The 10 % of wealthiest households hold 50% of total wealth; the 40 % least wealthy own little over 3 %.” (UNDERSTANDING THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC DIVIDE IN EUROPE, OECD 26 JANUARY 2017) It’s not an exact statistical comparison I know but just contrast ‘the top 10 percent’ with ‘the twenty richest Americans.’
Despite all its failings, the EU is still in many ways a redistributive project, although cases such as Greece do indeed beg to differ. But in whose hands are we to seek a less divided economic future?
Let’s remember that the growth in US wealth inequality over the last 30 years is a product of the American system, whether it’s nominally Democratic or Republican. Trump is merely the latest, albeit egregious iteration of a system that privileges wealth. Outside the EU we will be even more at the mercy of this model as we beg the US to help us out of our self-inflicted quagmire. There is surely a reason why both Trump and Putin would love to see the demise of the EU. I have yet to hear the phrase ‘EU oligarch’ – we may have Brussels bureaucrats, but they are a far less threatening species than those that occupy the White House and the Kremlin.
Another weekend spent in Glasgow - my annual trip to enjoy the strange delights of the Tectonics Festival. I will report on that under 'Perambulations, etc.' Suffice to say the music (the word is not always appropriate) is of limited appeal, but for those of us who occasionally enjoy a bit of creative noise this festival is of global significance. Much of it will be broadcast over the coming weeks on BBC Radio 3's Saturday night contemporary music programme 'Hear and Now.'
I see on Skwawkbox that a petition has been got up, now with 11,000 signatories, seeking to get the 20 or so right-wing Labour parliamentary opponents of Jeremy Corbyn to shut up. This is a worthy ambition but I won't be signing it. Whilst the likes of Chris Leslie, John Mann and others enjoy finding new ways of media 'dogpiling' (a new word I read about in today's Guardian) on poor old Jez, there shouldn't be some crackdown on people espousing their discordant views on the party's leadership. As one of the first MPs in 2009 to publicly suggest Gordon Brown's removal (and replacement with Ed Miliband) I would be hypocritical to join with those urging a crackdown (and hint hint deselection) of Corbyn's critics, no matter how annoying they are. I hate all this personality cult stuff in politics. As Tony Benn (not one for cultivating a personality cult himself, of course) might say, we should focus our attention on the 'ishues.' And if I recall, after the 2010 general election, Gordon Brown himself said that Labour possibly lost and extra 30-40 seats because of his leadership. Humble pie too often follows hubris.
My latest catalogue called 'Flatpack' has just been published, and of course offers the discerning eye a cornucopia of visual delight. I think so anyway. It features works from the 1970s onwards up to the present time. Now that I've just started reading a book about alienation, I think that word sums up some of my stuff. Well alienated. But only £15.
Climate change comes with all sorts of ironical twists and turns, but this one’s hard to beat. The salvage company that led the task of refloating the Costa Concordia is now floating the idea that Antarctic icebergs could be towed to South Africa to relieve Cape Town’s severe water shortage. One iceberg could apparently supply the city with fresh water for a year. The iceberg would be wrapped in a ‘fabric skirt’ (a job there for wrapping artist Christo methinks) and sliced up bit by bit. The whole story is here. Meanwhile, as the Guardian reports today, a joint UK/US mission is being sent to explore the impacts of climate change on a rapidly melting glacier in Antarctica, and indeed other reports suggest that icebergs are melting from beneath in a previously unobserved phenomenon. Perhaps we could stop climate change induced sea level rise by drinking the melting glaciers?
P.S. That was a joke.