I suggested a few days ago that the original, native Americans should be able to form their own, sovereign nation on the North American continent, perhaps taking over the Dakotas (or wherever else they were chased out of) - on the same principle that saw the creation of Israel. So I was pleasantly surprised to read an interview on the FiveThirtyEight website with a guy who thought that the United States should (or indeed would inevitably) be broken up into separate countries. The suggestion arises for mainly domestic reasons, but wouldn’t the break up of the U.S. not have international advantages too? The U.S. seeks to be a monopoly, and prides itself on its self-image as a ‘good guy’ maintaining the liberal order. We all know the reality behind that. But since Trump seems to believe that the E.U. should fall apart, why shouldn’t we reciprocate? The break-up of discongruous states has been a post war trend, from the Soviet Union through Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Sudan, quite possibly the U.K, Spain, Canada, Belgium and others, perhaps including China which should at least free Tibet and stop eyeing up Taiwan. The desire for autonomy seems fairly universal, and the U.S. has its own variation of this theme with the anti-Washington ‘States’ Rights’ constitutional claim. How different the world would look if north of Mexico and south of the 49th parallel there existed 49 separate countries. It would still leave two or three of them in the G20.
I am currently reading a book called New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future by James Bridle (Verso 2018).
Despite all our modern luxuries and conveniences, I am not sure that we ever moved very far out of the previous ‘dark age.’ What made us think that we had? Yes, flush toilets, penicillin, air travel and international art biennales have all contributed to our glowing self-satisfaction with the new world order. But how far do you have to poke beneath the surface to find that things are just as basic—and venal—as before? We are probably as close to nuclear war as we have been for some time, though of course that will be up to governments that we look down upon. We face the return of diseases we temporarily got a grip on, but are now facing a time without the benefit of suitable drugs to control them. The threat multiplier of climate change throws all happy descriptions of our blossoming, civilised future into doubt. That’s already happening, and as somebody pointed out the models were wrong—they were too conservative. Has greed diminished in the last millennium? War? Poverty? Inequality? Torture?
Thinking of the people who live below the dam—a metaphor for our age—it seems to be a case of just waiting to see whether a crisis can be avoided. What would you think if you were threatened with arrest if you didn’t leave your flood threatened home for an unspecified period? Whatever happens to the population living in the shadow of the Toddbrook reservoir near Whaley Bridge, which may or may not collapse tonight, they will notice their properties becoming uninsurable, or if they can insure, they may have to pay a hefty premium. In this age, what happens to insurance is, as it were the canary in the mine. Insurance is a collective (almost socialist) expression of faith in the future, i.e. that whatever happens we will be able jointly to cover our risks in some benign point in the future. This belief is going to be sorely tested as time goes by, and with it the idea that we can collectively take a shared responsibility for our individual wellbeing.
I am not, of course saying that all is bleak about human nature—the adversities that will befall our species as a result of its current profligacy will certainly lead to astonishing feats of human compassion. But the opposite is also true, and I suspect as the saying goes, the devil has all the best tunes.
I don’t see a huge amount of political effort going into the development of a sustainable, human future. And where that does exist in an embryonic stage, e.g. in the approach of Jeremy Corbyn, it is antithetical to the current design of our society. Some people think that technology alone will save us, almost like Hitler believed a war-winning wonder weapon was just around the corner. And look what happened to him.
Perhaps Trump is not a climate change denier after all, but is actually doing his best to tackle the problem, just in such a way that no-one notices his true intent. Fantasy of course, but if his trade war with China hits that country’s economy hard, then it could have the knock-on effect of reducing China’s increasing use of fossil fuels. This growth accounts for half of the global increase in fossil fuels.
The chart illustrates how despite all the talk and international hand-wringing, we’re still well on our way to hell. The chart comes from an excellent analysis by Barry Saxifrage in Canada’s National Observer—the whole article is worth reading, especially if you were feeling optimistic after the Paris Agreement and need a reality check. There are some good signs, however. The E.U. including the UK is cutting the use of fossil fuels. Surprisingly so has Russia, even whilst that country is seeking to exploit opened-up Arctic oil and gas reserves.
Developing countries, with India in the lead, sniff a scent of a colonialist attitude towards their fossil fuel based growth. Unless the old, industrialised economies do more to aid the shift to renewable energy globally, and not just at home, then developing countries will have a point. As somebody once said, we’re all in this together.
I'm supporting a campaign by Humanists UK to get rid of 'collective acts of worship' in schools. Most opinion polls now show that non-religious people are in the majority in the UK, so the question is why do we still have this crude ceremony in our schools? If it's meant to indoctrinate, then it clearly hasn't worked. What, I wonder might the effect on a child's mind be if she were told that God had instructed her father to kill her? Or do school assemblies only include the happy clappy Bible stories? Please sign the petition.
Here’s a confession: in nine years as a Labour MP until 2010 I can’t recollect ever having had a conversation with Jeremy Corbyn. Oh for the benefit of hindsight! Anyway, he rarely seemed to be around the House of Commons, he rarely if ever bothered going to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meetings; he was seen by most Labour MPs as semi if not fully detached, ploughing his own course. It was also true that regional MPs tended to stick together—if you’re bothering ministers about a hospital’s funding in Leeds you’re not looking to an Islington MP for assistance. But there was another kind of conversation going on in those Blair/Brown days, and this is thankfully fully documented. The system of Early Day Motions (EDMs) enabled dissident voices to rather fruitlessly raise common concerns, and I think I will have signed plenty of Jeremy’s EDMs and he mine.
I was thinking of this today when JC came to Scarborough to speak at a meeting in support of our local Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) Hugo Fearnley. I guess there were around 200 or 250 members there and JC went down very well. Some local rightwingers stayed away (probably on holiday, let’s not leap to conclusions) and there was a genuine warmth towards him—in complete contradiction to the nonsense we read daily in the media. His speech was sincere. How many big time politicians would devote ten minutes of their time to bus services (the most used form of public transport by far)? Here in North Yorkshire bus services have been decimated. But if you live in some rural village, you’ve got a 4X4 right? He also devoted a considerable part of his speech to the climate emergency. At long last, I think the Labour Party is becoming an environmentally conscious party, not simply a socially conscious party, wedded to the precepts of GDP growth as the solver of all problems. I was pleased that our candidate Hugo forcefully made this point.
I said JC’s speech was sincere. In doing so I think an important feature of his rise to prominence is that he didn’t really seek it out. Our current prime minister has laid a snot-trail of ambition all the way from a dorm in Eton to his present address. The English establishment would rather see on-your-sleeve ambition so as better to understand how it can be manipulated, using all the old tricks. These don’t seem to have worked on JC yet, and I don’t think they will. Which is why they will intensify their attacks on his sincerity and integrity all the more. Contrast that treatment with their fawning acceptance of the charlatan Johnson.
+Thinking about Alistair Campbell’s recent self-promotion (which was merely to say he wished to remain expelled from the Labour Party for the sin of voting for another party - see my previous blog) one can only assume that once a director of communications, always a director of communications—Campbell just can’t stop, even if now his only product seems to be himself. This has made me wonder whether even in the sad event of his death he would promote a discussion over the epitaph he would like on his gravestone. Should it be ’Here lies a warmonger’ or ’Here lies the slayer of Corbyn’ or ’Here lies Tony’s crony?’ To narrow the field down a bit, how about ’Here lies.’
+Already questions are being asked as to what Johnson’s economic policy is. It has been suggested that his use of the word ’boosterism’ is a clue to the Prime Minister’s (aaagghh!) approach to Making Britain Great Again. This has a ring about it, in other words, Woosterism. Bertie Wooster was ‘A young English gentleman and one of the "idle rich", Bertie frequently appears alongside his valet, Jeeves, whose intelligence manages to save Bertie or one of his friends from numerous awkward situations.’ (Wikipedia). Sums it up really. But who, I wonder is Jeeves, who may turn out to be our national saviour? Somebody from the servant class, perhaps? (Full disclosure: I very much enjoyed watching Ian Carmichael and Denis Price in the BBC's 1970s(?) adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse's comic tales.)
+The other day one of the cooling towers at the decommissioned coal fired Ferrybridge power station came tumbling down in a controlled explosion. Today, only a small percentage of UK electricity is generated by coal. There’s a certain irony here for those of us who wore ‘coal not dole’ badges during the miner’s strike 35 years ago. A more recent irony could be that investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) research will be permanently stalled. If you’re not producing so much carbon from fixed, large scale power plants, there’s hardly much incentive to pour money into CCS—even though global coal use is still rising.
I am minded to think of these things having just watched Al Gore’s follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth (2006), this time called An Inconvenient Sequel (2017). The emphasis of the sequel is on the new renewable technologies which are undoubtedly taking off big-style—despite still receiving less subsidy than fossil fuels globally. Gore appears to have made his mark in the 2015 Paris Climate Change Accords by convincing India not to wreck it, a feat achieved by him making a few judicious phone calls from his hotel suite in Paris. There’s no point seeking to diminish his personal contribution to affecting India’s stance (which nevertheless remains wedded to a path of much increased use of coal) but sadly the film misses the point that the Paris agreement permits each signatory to get on with doing whatever they feel they want to—it is an agreement without sanctions (they come later with floods, drought, heatwaves, rising sea levels, war, etc., etc.)
Gore finds hope in his despair (the latter, as you might expect brought on not least by Trump) and he finds an antidote—in the shape of the portly Republican mayor of Georgetown, Texas, a town which will shortly become 100% renewable energy supplied. So there is hope and it shines eternal but it is I fear as rare as diamonds—fossil fuel use as has risen since Paris and there’s not much sign that trajectory is about to reverse. Still, Al does a good job trying to save the world, and if he engaged his interlocutors with the discipline of Contraction and Convergence he might have a way of measuring progress apart from the anecdotal.
+ I have been forced to write again to the Guardian, this time on the nationally gripping news (given front page treatment by the paper) that Alistair Campbell has decided not to pursue his righteous cause of re-instatement as a Labour Party member. Perhaps it's for the best.
As a Remoaner, I'm probably just as frustrated with Jeremy Corbyn's rather pragmatic approach to Brexit as is Alistair Campbell. But unlike Corbyn, we do not have the formidable task of trying to heal the divisions in our society. In this regard, Labour's current suite of policies, tackling social injustice to the climate crisis may have some significance, although Alistair doesn't mention any of them as reasons for sticking with Labour. Labour's shift towards a more nuanced remain position is welcome, but won't be enhanced by the outbursts of the Campbells of this world.
+ Observant visitors to this website will have noticed that my Home page disappeared without explanation. This is because when I tried to create a 'sub' page for an art review under Perambulations, it replaced the Home page, which I then had to delete. This is all because the review was of an exhibition at Home in Manchester - the new venue which replaced the Cornerhouse. The website couldn't cope with two different pages called 'Home.' I have now decided to rename Manchester's Home 'Cornerhouse.' I preferred that name anyway. The review of David Lynch's exhibition now appears under Cornerhouse under Perambulations. I will have to recreate a new Home page.
+ I have a new article published in Lobster. This partially explains what some Labour peers get up to when they've found time on their hands. They'' have a lot more time on their hands if Jeremy gets his way.
An article in Intercept* makes for worrying reading, for those who may wish to travel to the E.U. after Brexit. As nationals of a ‘third country’ we can assume that we will face more stringent border checks, but as this article reveals we may not like the kind of checks currently under appraisal. ‘Deception Detection’ is the name of the game—basically a lie detector test– using technology which monitors, e.g. your facial movements to see if you are telling the truth. The test could be applied in your own home before you travel, using your own computer’s built-in camera, or perhaps on your mobile phone. It sounds sinister and it is. If the technology works, why limit its use to border security?
*This story was reported in the Guardian last November but somehow I missed it.
+We’re only into the first 24 hours of Johnson’s premiership, and already there’s been a power cut (here in Yorkshire). Of course I hear you say, I can’t blame Johnson for that. Maybe not. But it merely begs the question as to how long we will be asked to wait for him to accept responsibility for things going belly-up. I don’t believe he’s expressed a single word of contrition for his £multi-million cock-ups as Mayor of London. Now that he is responsible for all of us (ugh!), the ante has been somewhat upped. We’ll soon hear that it’s all Jeremy Corbyn’s fault that things aren’t working out (May tried this trick too) which rather begs the question whether Her Maj invited the right person to form a government.
Not to worry. We’re learning as we go along. We’ll soon see our Great Clown Leader meeting Trump. It must necessarily be one of Johnson’s first ports of call in the remote possibility he might wish to utterly burnish our appreciation of his historic importance. This, I would suggest might not be best served by a meeting in the boring old Oval Office but rather on a warship, as when Churchill met Roosevelt in Placentia Bay off Newfoundland in August 1941. Now of course, to celebrate our special relationship, Johnson could have a similar meeting with the added bonus of welcoming Trump on board HMS Queen Elizabeth, our new aircraft carrier, moored next to the Statue of Liberty. A fitting location, since both men were born in New York and no doubt both appreciate the symbolic importance of the Statue of Liberty as a welcome to immigrants. Then they could witness the landing of a squadron of American F35s, or at least one of them, to demonstrate both leaders’ commitment to fending off fake news attacks from wherever Putin dispatches them. Hurrah! We need to see Johnson saluting the great Commander in Chief himself! (I think Johnson too would love to be a commander in chief, wearing a uniform of one sort or another like his hero Churchill did, assuming that no-one in the Johnson loving media would question his lack of military experience). That’s one scenario. Others abound.
But what do you do with a Churchill hero worshipper, one who has finally earned his own portrait’s place on the famous No. 10 staircase? I suppose we shouldn’t dwell too long on Churchill’s many strategic failures, brought on by an abiding confidence in his own utterly flawed strategic genius. The Brexit war (let’s not forget, the most decisive issue for the UK in 70 years) has its own momentum, as indeed does physical combat, and Johnson much like Churchill is merely reliant on the failed strategic thinking of the past. This means he will try to undermine the EU’s bargaining position by an appeal to its weaker flanks—i.e. those that are fairly recent members whose culture has yet to assimilate the liberal set of values which most of us understand rightly or wrongly to have sustained some form of irreversible social progress in Europe. What does this matter to an ego the size of Johnson’s? A man who is a licensed liar? He has given the green light to all who have some petty axe to grind, but especially those who profit from others’ weakness (the dominant theme of UK politics)? I could go on, but since I’m not paid £100,000 a year for this, I’ve decided to take a rest. I’d just like you to know that more power cuts may be on the way.
+I have been brought up to speed on my old friend and colleague Gordon Prentice’s run-in with Conrad Black, also known as Lord Black of Crossharbour, a Tory nominee to our legislature gifted by William (I’m ever so witty) Hague. It seems that Black’s lawyers have picked up comments by Gordon that Black is a ‘convicted fraudster.’ It gets complicated when one finds that one D. Trump gave Black a presidential pardon. It would seem that in the U.S. system that’s a get out of jail free card, but does not exonerate you from the original conviction. Gordon it has be said always had a penchant for calling a turd a turd, and on this occasion he has flushed Black as he should be to the rear of a u-bend. It all rather begs the question as to whether being pardoned by Trump is not in itself a conviction, a declaration of your guilt. Silly. Of course it is. Gordon’s refutation of Black’s position is rather bolstered by the presidential pardon, reproduced on Gordon’s webpage. If Black wasn’t convicted (and received a 42 month jail sentence and a $125,000 fine) what was he being pardoned for?