It's late at night and I've been watching (and getting extremely bored by) a prog on TV about the capture of an image of a Black Hole. I realise that the effort to achieve this ambition must have required a huge amount of preparatory work. But god, the result was stultifying. And there was no way of knowing what images were fabricated or real. But in the end, we were presented with a picture indeed of a black hole, surrounded by a cloud of glowing gas. I'm just not sure whether the image came from outer space or somewhere in Brussels.
+ What moves faster than Brexit? Why, glaciers of course! A new report shows that a majority of the world’s glaciers are now receding five times faster than previously predicted. That’s equivalent to a hundred times faster than the ‘activity’ which goes by the name of Theresa May.
++ Language Lesson One: when a report (out today) tells us that under this government funding for children’s mental health services has declined by a third, the government spokesperson responds “Funding for children’s mental health services is a priority.” Does that mean they’re going to cut another third? How do these people sleep at night? (Instead of sheep, they count missed Brexit deadlines.)
+++ Language Lesson Two: It looks like the inimitable Netanyahu is on course to win the Israeli general election. A PM kept in power with the support of religious extremists (like May and the DUP). He will tell the world that ‘Israel has decided’ even though the election result was on a knife edge. If it is considered (e.g. under the IHRA definition) anti-semitic to criticise Israel (as opposed to its government) then phrases like ‘Israel has decided’ should be banned. Just as it would be wrong under such a generalisation to say ‘Britain has decided’ viz. Brexit. The outcome of the referendum doesn’t mean that all Brits are Brexiteers. But I am sure Netanyahu will not make any distinctions when he triumphantly claims (as he no doubt will) that ‘Israel has decided' seeking to make Israel synonymous with his government.
If there weren’t enough to worry about in the world which stems from human activity, along comes artificial intelligence. Let’s remember the old adage about computers: rubbish in, rubbish out. Can we rely on artificial intelligence to correct or improve upon the human invention of this new breed of what are essentially calculating machines with inputs? Here’s a fact: the roll-out of self-driving vehicles in the UK is being tested under the regime of one Chris Grayling. The man who as Transport Secretary ‘doesn’t run the railways.’ Call me old fashioned but I don’t think I want to be around when these vehicles are generally allowed on the road. If we embrace this so–called 'intelligence' model we’re going to get a lot more Boeing 737 Maxes.
As regards the big argument in favour of artificial intelligence – that it will lead to economic growth and hence more jobs, I don’t buy that. The holy grail of the developers of artificial intelligence is that it will learn how to improve itself – but for whose profit? Technology always leads to the accumulation of capital in fewer hands – witness Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google and the delightful Zuckerberg. Of course there will be some spin-offs, I wouldn’t argue that hasn’t happened with the Internet, but the development model we are witnessing has produced not only the unprecedented accumulation of wealth in a few hands but also an almost unchallengeable power structure which has clearly left the political domain well behind. Actual democracy has been overtaken in favour of the pretend democracy of social media.
Perhaps the resistance to this seemingly unstoppable trend lies in the hands of artists. Art could be the last human activity which simply cannot be replicated by AI. I am not convinced that any computer could demonstrate originality. The fightback begins with paint, brushes, pencils and ink. Or clay, stone or whatever. I challenge any computer to produce something from scratch which means nothing. Would a computer understand ‘produce something which means nothing?’ An artist could.
Have we just stepped back a few days to April 1st? I’ve just read a story in the Guardian which staggers belief. And as a Remainer (Remoaner) it has made me wonder whether the E.U. is intent on pissing off a load of people who probably by a large majority would prefer Brexit wasn’t happening. I am talking of the E.U’s idiotic plan to ban the use of words like ‘sausage’ and ‘burger’ from veggie product descriptions. Even as I write, I am wondering whether this is actually some sort of delayed April Fool’s joke. Surely, the E.U. has better things to do than worry whether people might wander into a butcher’s and ask for a veggie sausage? Do they have such a low regard for the average European’s intelligence? And why should the word sausage be used exclusively to describe a meat product anyway? Exactly which limb of an animal does a sausage form? Which part of an animal is a burger? These are merely words which describe a form of packaging or shaping. What next – no more veggie lasagne or shepherd’s pies? Shouldn’t such a stupid rule apply to any product which traditionally contained meat?
It is sometimes argued that veggies shouldn’t want to eat something that apes the form of meat. I suspect this line of thinking says more about the vulnerabilities of carnivores than it does about some meat hankering on the part of veggies. Carnivores now it seems are a dying breed (pun intended) and the meat lobby is clearly behind this nonsense even if the E.U. denies it.
Good to see hundreds of Kittiwakes back on Scarborough’s castle cliff. They seem to arrive as we put the clocks forward. They’re probably attracted to the idea of British Summer Time. Who wouldn’t be? But with Spring in our step, we can look to the future with confidence, now that Theresa May is offering the hand of friendship to Jeremy Corbyn in order to find a ‘compromise’ (her rarely used word) to move Brexit on. I noted in her statement this evening that she nevertheless thinks that her current withdrawal agreement can form the basis of wherever she thinks her new found one nation approach will take her. I think she may have to think again about that. However, maybe she does now see the folly of relying on the DUP, the sort of support Lenin referred to when he spoke of a hangman’s noose. Perhaps something sensible will now emerge. Perhaps the best we can hope for now is a soft Brexit and the sundering of the Conservative Party. It is high time the right wing in British politics was permanently split.
I am a candidate in this year’s local elections, for the Seamer Ward of Scarborough Borough Council. We (that is the Labour Party) have not stood a candidate here, so far as I can tell, for over ten years or more so I will be interested to see what the outcome will be this year. Presumably I can expect a good drubbing, but who knows? A significant part of the ward is what I once would have called ‘Blair country’ which is to say it is new housing, possibly a fairly young family-orientated demographic, car owners with regular jobs and mortgages. I notice that Tony Blair seems to have been fairly quiet of late, and as I have written here before he may find himself in a bit of a quandary. Politically he probably would be inclined to support the so-called ‘Fringe Tingers’ of the Chukka/Heidi ilk, but with his historic fortunes resting on his Labour Party leadership he may feel a personal obligation to keep schtum so far as is physically possible. Anyway, what he does won’t be the first concern on the minds of the electors of Seamer (and Crossgates and Irton). Some may be more interested why their trains are so often late and jam packed. And other concerns will impinge which are entirely the creation of this dreadful government. Go on! Give them a good kicking! I doubt that any readers of this blog actually live in Seamer Ward, but if you do please have a look here.
Although politics has been so dominant in my life, I have not entirely given up in my dotage (Really? Only going on 66 and that’s already your dotage?), but I did feel it was time to part with my political archive before it rotted away in my shed. This is now deposited with Huddersfield University, which I think has done some excellent work on Left politics. I sent them about 90-odd boxes of material which I had collected not just from my own experience but also from the collections of others who needed to find a home for countless leaflets, etc. I have always harboured the belief that whilst record keeping amongst the ‘ruling class’ would be first class, and treasured by the nation in honour of the Great and the Good’s Enormous Contribution to Our Country, the records of for want of a better expression the ‘working class’ often would be neglected and destroyed as worthless, or too insignificant to merit preservation. Of course, minute books (even if minutes were kept) of Labour Party branch meetings might not have been riveting reading, but for, say, social historians at least they could be of equal worth with things like Mass Observation. So I kept everything and have now passed the whole pile on to Huddersfield, and I hope whoever has the unenviable task of cataloguing it doesn’t go mad. I’ve just discovered another five boxes at home. A summary of what they have categorised so far for anyone who’s interested can be found here.
I’ve just returned from a pleasant three day sojourn in Paris. Three whole days in which no news was good news, although the dreaded B-word did ensure that Eurostar kept sending messages to future passengers not to travel from Gare du Nord, due to French customs industrial action. As it was there was no sign of any French industrial action, and the longest bit of the queue was to get through the British Border Force’s passport control. We Brits don’t need industrial action in order to create a queue. Returning on the 29th March was I thought likely to be the last opportunity I would have to travel as a fully-fledged European citizen, but it seems I underestimated Theresa May’s ineptitude. Picking up today’s Guardian I may well have not bothered going away – the story is the same as a week ago, except the long grass has just got a little bit longer.
Sitting in the sunshine on the Left Bank, sipping an expresso whilst reading the New York Times, I came across an article outlining the dangers of the Israel/Trump love-in. Whilst some utopians still talk of a ‘two-state’ solution, the direction of travel is a one-state solution, which I suppose we could call ‘Greater Israel,’ and which clearly has the full support of Trump (as demonstrated by his backing of Israel’s colonial theft of the Golan Heights). As the article pointed out, this version of Israel will incorporate a large number of Palestinians. How exactly will Israel deal with this enlarged Arab population? Will Israel be able to maintain its ‘Jewish nation state’ presumption? If the Palestinian Authority ceases to exist (with little or no territory left to control) will the more aggressive Hamas become the main focus of Palestinian resistance? What will happen if more and more Palestinains are dispossessed and exiled? I do hope Netanyahu is locked up soon, it’s a pity Trump seems no closer to such a fate.
Whilst in Paris I visited the Pompidou Centre for a wonderful Victor Vaserely exhibition, of which more later under Perambulations.
Now that a government advertising campaign has begun advising E.U. citizens living and working in the U.K. to apply for ‘settled status’ (applications now free, but the original price tag I believe was £75) there was a rather shaming interview on the BBC PM programme this evening. It featured a woman who has been living here for years, with her two children – and I believe she said her husband had been working and living here for 20 years – saying the family was thinking of leaving. What a bloody disgrace this is. And how ashamed of one’s own country should we overly proud Brits be? Your children are at school, you're paying your mortgage, you’ve learnt the language and sufficient skills to have a job and pay your taxes – and then like some alien you have to register with the bureaucracy your existence as if you were a threat, a lesser human being? Remind you of anything?
But we have a government which co-incidentally sits on top (judging from today’s Guardian) of an Islamophobic volcano within its own ranks. There is something truly awful going on. What I wonder really explains it? I’m not looking for the explanation amongst those who voted for Brexit for the usual reasons, i.e. immigration, austerity, to kick the establishment – what I’m wondering about are the very keepers of that establishment, who seem to have accepted a course of self-immolation, harbouring some form of patriotic self-disgust to the extent that they can no longer be at ease with themselves unless they scratch this ’foreign’ scab until it is a deep wound. That’s what it feels like. It would be a price worth paying, perhaps (a big perhaps) if Brexit meant the end of the Conservative Party, which in most sane circles can now only be seen as unfit to govern. What happened to the ‘natural’ party of government? It seems to me like May is trying to keep something together which has already irrevocably fallen apart. I wonder if what we are suffering from now is the result of the Conservative’s greatest crisis ever (duhh), or if it is something which its natural survival instinct will save it from (with all the horrors that will entail). The trouble is, if we do get a no deal Brexit, it is likely the Conservative Party will be reborn, and its new self will be triumphantly of a Tea Party-like character. C’mon Jeremy, get stuck in!
I’m glad I was out of the country on Wednesday, so missed Theresa May’s ‘we’ll fight them on the backbenches’ speech to the nation. I have now seen a bit of it and she is a despairing vision, lacking authority, intellectual grasp or rhetorical flourish. Many have excoriated her speech, deservedly so, and that being the case I won’t bang on about it. But what bothers me is that she represents us, she is theoretically in charge of the nation’s fate, she somehow – incredibly - is the summation of British hopes and desires. She is none of these things of course, she could be better cast in some Coen brothers film, perhaps ‘The Woman Who Wasn’t There.’ I’m not sure that even the Coen brothers would be able to turn May’s hapless, witless character into something amusing. Perhaps we should look to Ken Loach, who could turn his camera to filming the sequel to I, Daniel Blake. This would be ‘I, Theresa May’ and would be an equivalent study of hopelessness, bureaucratic obstinacy and plain stupidity, combining to make all concerned suicidal.
To any readers interested in my Perambulations in the art world, I have just posted a review of an exhibition at Humber Street Gallery, Hull.
My old friend Aubrey Meyer – one of the world’s most informed voices on climate change – has very kindly put up a page on his website which recounts some of the parliamentary activities on that subject he and I undertook in the 2000s. The framework Aubrey had developed, known as Contraction and Convergence, was the only logical and rational approach to defining a solution that I ever came across. It simply combined the principle of contracting greenhouse gas emissions to a scientifically defined ‘safe’ level whilst distributing the responsibility for achieving that goal on an equitable basis, which is to say by leading to a globally equalised per capita share of the problem. Whilst most politicians would give lip service to the former concept, the convergence part presented them with challenges. Nevertheless, to its credit the Labour government’s Climate Change Act did lift the Contraction and Convergence framework as its formula, although in typical fashion it was reluctant to acknowledge the source.
I now personally doubt that reducing carbon emissions alone will solve the problem. The multiplicity of global warming feedback mechanisms suggest that the climatic changes we face are irreversible. The hit and miss efforts (and money) to mitigate climate change will increasingly be redirected to adapting to it. The rich and poor divide will be exacerbated by climate change to an extent never witnessed before. Overly pessimistic? Just read the news.