Money v people, Trump still unhinged, civil war, death by liquorice, Ireland’s kindness

27 September 2020

Exceptional times demand exceptional leaders.  Cometh the hour, cometh Boris Johnson and Donald Trump.  Oh dear. 

At least Johnson shows signs of knowing he’s out of his depth and has given up saying “all over by Christmas” and is tightening things up again, allowing localised lockdowns, presumably so that when all the local lockdowns meet in the middle, nobody can blame him for closing the entire country down for a second time. 

The problem is that it’s likely a second lockdown is unavoidable and, therefore, ’twere well it were done quickly.  A lot of people suffered badly during the first lockdown and, by easing too much too soon when a second surge of infections was inevitable, they were given a false hope that their lives would improve again.  Reimposing restrictions is therefore likely to hit them even harder and I fear we’ll see even more people suffering from depression and committing suicide.

What I find difficult to judge is the actual increase in infection rates.  We know that, as more testing is done, the more positive results there will be but I don’t know how the increased number of infections relates to the increased number of tests.  (Donald Trump has naturally realised the link between the number of tests and the number of reported cases but his unhinged brain has interpreted this to mean that if you stop testing people there will be no more positive cases and therefore the pandemic will end.)

Our Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has cancelled the budget and announced a multibillion-pound fund to boost the economy but has admitted it isn’t enough and that more businesses will go bust and unemployment will increase even more.  It seems strange that he didn’t also introduce a maximum amount that directors and managers could take out of larger companies, cancel all dividends to shareholders and require both groups to repay past payments back to their company to help ensure its survival.  I suppose what this omission emphasises is that, given a choice between letting more people die or inconveniencing the rich, the government thinks money is more important than people.

Then the rich emigrate to tax havens, the latest being the UK’s richest person, Sir Jim Ratcliffe (no, me neither), so they don’t have to contribute to the costs of putting Britain back on its feet again.

At least the chances of a rebellion / civil war are probably lower here than in America, but they’ve had more recent practice than we have.  The only difference will be that instead of blue versus grey, it’ll be blue versus red though it’ll probably involve roughly the same groups fighting each other again.  Followed by lots more deaths and, finally, partition into the Disunited States of America.

Tellingly, Trump refused on Wednesday to deny that he wouldn’t leave the White House if the vote went against him and, when pressed, said “Get rid of the ballots … The ballots are out of control.”

Brian Karem, who’d asked the question, later tweeted “This is the most frightening answer I have ever received to any question I have ever asked. I’ve interviewed convicted killers with more empathy.”

Then, on Thursday, I saw a clip of Trump smiling at a crowd of people somewhere offstage who were chanting something that sounded terrifyingly like “Sieg Heil!”.  It’s haunting me still.

Even more frightening is the disrespect for Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s last wishes that Trump has just shown by announcing a new supreme court judge who just happens to be on the far right and claims to be a “faithful Catholic” though she’s actually a member of a loony, misogynist fringe group called ‘People of Praise’ which is run entirely by men to whom women are subservient.  It’s headed by a board of governors, all men naturally, who describe themselves as its “highest authority”.  I thought Catholics believed God was the highest authority and that, if God’s in a meeting, the Pope steps in but I’m obviously out of date. 

Trump obviously sees her as a supporter willing to vote the Republican way.  Since when have a judge’s personal beliefs been more important than the law of the land?  (And since when has a politician had the experience to decide the best lawyer to serve on the supreme court?)

More books are being published about what life with the Trump Klan is really like and, since John Bolton’s book ‘The Room Where It Happened’ became a runaway bestseller in June, the Department of Justice has started a criminal investigation into whether Bolton was indiscreet with classified information.

Ellen Knight, the former senior director for records, access and information security management at the National Security Council has since confirmed her team spent four months reviewing and double-checking the contents of Bolton’s draft to ensure it didn’t disclose any classified information.  After clearing the book in April, Knight claims Trump’s lawyers tried to force her to sign false and misleading statements to prevent its publication and she’s now filed a formal letter confirming this in the federal court in Washington.

Trump’s unstatesmanship was further exposed this week when China’s leader Xi Jinping said that the fight to control and overcome Covid-19 was an opportunity for international cooperation while Trump blamed China for unleashing the “plague” in the first place.

There are still, of course, alternative ways of dying.  In Massachusetts, a construction worker ate 1½ bags of liquorice every day and, after the glycyrrhizic acid found in black liquorice had unbalanced his body’s chemicals, died a few weeks later.

On a lighter note, David Flatman, a sports presenter on Channel 5 recently exposed the bigotry of his co-presenters – and probably quite a lot of his viewers – by pointing out that “global pandemic” is tautologous because the ‘pan’ prefix means worldwide.  An intelligent sportsman?  Who’d have guessed this was possible.  It’s a good job he’s not also a woman or the comment would have made the front page of the Daily Mail.

Despite an apparently undisputed debt to Iran, the UK still hasn’t paid it and hopes that its settlement would allow the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe seem over-optimistic and she remains under house arrest in her parents’ home.  She now claims she’s being harassed by the Revolutionary Guards who have falsely accused her of damaging her tag and threatened her with a second charge.  The FCO is aware of this so it’s down to Dominic Raab.  Don’t watch this space unless you’re bored by* watching paint dry. 

And a big kindness from Ireland this week.  In the latest act of solidarity between the Irish and Native American peoples, the Irish men’s lacrosse team has relinquished its place in the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, and given it to the Iroquois Nationals, a team representing a confederacy of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora Nations.

Lacrosse originated among the Iroquois nations (also known as the Haudenosaunee Confederacy) and Ireland Lacrosse’s CEO Michael Kennedy said “We want the Iroquois to take up the position which is rightfully theirs”.

Links between the Native Americans and the Irish go back at least as far as 1845 when the Choctaw nation gave $170 (worth about $5,500 in today’s terms), more than Queen Victoria gave, to victims of the Irish potato famine.  This led to a lasting bond between the nations and, in 2020 alone, the Irish people have given more than $5 million to Native American families who, due to poor health, lack of running water and numerous other deprivations, have been struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic in Arizona and New Mexico.

* Why do so many people now say ‘bored of …’?

Lawbreaking now OK, Trump’s brain goes missing, female sexuality, a failed MP exposed, kindness and a new love

20 September 2020

The Brexit Bill was passed by the House of Commons by a depressing number of conservative MPs more willing to break the law than risk their jobs.  It makes you realise why the word ‘Commons’ is used.

Wouldn’t it great (if it survives the committee stages and the House of Lords) if the Queen declined to break the law herself and refused to sanction the Brexit Bill?

But even the right-wing press are critical of Boris Johnson’s promise to carry out 1 million tests a day followed three days later by his humiliating admission they hadn’t even reached 300,000 yet.  Let’s paint “1 million tests a day” on a new Boris bus.

The American ‘justice’ system is now also flakier following the sad death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the 87-year old supreme court justice who had pancreatic cancer, and Trump now plans to nominate another Republican and the Senate will nod it through.  Still, if this does happen, it’ll simplify the American justice system because all new applications to the supreme court will have to do is to ask which party the applicant supports.

In 2016, eight months before the presidential election, Mitch McConnell set a precedent by blocking Barack Obama from filling a court vacancy on the grounds that the time was too short and the position should be left vacancy for the next election winner to fill.  In 2020, two months before the next presidential election, the same Mitch McConnell has now pledged to get a swift vote to appoint a Trump groupie before the election. 

Even Johnson now realises a second spike is approaching and R, the average number of people who catch it from a single sufferer, is now over 1, the level at which it might be contained.  The coronavirus test and trace system is still “barely functional” and The Independent has seen a leaked document saying that the Department of Health and Social Care has capped funding testing in the health service, leaving hospital doctors, nurses, teachers and other key workers unable to work because they can’t get tested. 

However, it now appears that nowhere has recorded an infection rate of over about 50% and optimistic epidemiologists are hoping that about half the population might be naturally immune.

America has, of course been well-led and very lucky and, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, Donald Trump said “It would go away without the vaccine, George … sure, over a period of time. You’ll develop like a herd mentality, it’s gonna be – it’s gonna be herd-developed, and that’s gonna happen. It will all happen.”

Even our stuttering prime minister could learn from this.

Trump’s latest wheeze is to create a ‘1776 Commission’ which will aim to educate people “about the miracle of American history”, erasing unnecessary irrelevancies like slavery and racism and making it clear to the native Americans that the continent actually was discovered by Columbus.

A similarly ingenuous attempt to mislead people appeared over here when an offer of 190p per share was rejected by the board of G4S, Britain’s most incompetent and scandal-ridden security firm, on the grounds that “the timing of the proposal is highly opportunistic”.  Isn’t that one of the overriding principles of capitalism and market forces, that you take advantage of others’ weaknesses to make yourself a profit?

A fortnight ago, I commented on the quality of the water in our rivers, lakes and streams.  Figures just released by the Environment Agency show that none of them have escaped pollution by sewage discharges and agricultural and industrial chemicals.  Bit worrying really since some of our ‘lakes’ are actually reservoirs and we drink them.

I was saddened to hear of Shere Hite’s death this week.  She produced her eponymous and ground-breaking report on female sexuality in 1976 and upset a lot of men who thought they knew better and criticised her sample of 4,500 women as being self-selected and unscientific despite the significant correlation between their responses.  Her response was that Freud’s claim that clitoral orgasms were “immature” and women who couldn’t orgasm through penetration were “frigid” was based on a sample of three Viennese women.  (I’ve always assumed that Freud enjoyed himself doing the research, which probably influenced his conclusions, and have wondered whether the women shared his self-satisfaction.)

I’d never known if her name, which sounds so much like a Spoonerism, was real.  It turns out that her given name was Shirley, the same as her mother’s, so she was nicknamed Shere while still very young and later adopted the family name of her stepfather, Raymond Hite. 

Our shamelessly absentee and utterly useless former MP gave up in 2020.  Having been opposed by a local community activist who gained more votes than any other independent in the UK first time she stood against him, Swire could see the writing on the wall and stepped down in case he was humiliated by an independent who was not only younger but – ugh – a woman!

Now Sasha, a former journalist and his wife, has written a book about her time as an idle MP’s wife and implicitly, but probably unintentionally, recognises the success of our dedicated independent, Claire Wright, and compliments her by confirming that Swire started his own short-lived campaign to keep the local hospital open in competition with Wright’s longstanding campaign just to annoy her.  How small-minded and bitter can a failed MP get? 

While breaking my fast early on Wednesday before a trustees’ meeting, a large fly was zooming round the room so, next time it passed, I snatched out at it and yes, you guessed, it had beautiful yellow and black stripes and a pointy bit at the end which it managed to jab into my little finger before I dropped it and trod on it.  I felt a bit guilty because it was only doing what it was designed for …

Chuck Feeney, who co-founded Duty Free Shoppers and made billions out of it, is an unusual man.  In the early 1980s, he started asking himself how many yachts or pairs of shoes he needed and set up The Atlantic Philanthropies, a charitable foundation into which he transferred almost all his wealth although this wasn’t known until 1996 when he sold his stake in DFS. 

He’s now 89 and has finally achieved his lifetime’s ambition:  the foundation has given away all its money and is being wound up.  A friend said “He has made reasonable provision for [his children], but he did feel that his family should be not be burdened with extraordinary sums”.

He wishes people like Jeff Bezos would follow his example.  “Try it,” he’s said, “you’ll like it.”

Chuck, I love you.

Who now trusts the UK, Rio TNT, Covid Surge 2, crediting kindness

13 September 2020

Who will ever trust the UK again?  Britain can no longer call itself ‘Great’ Britain and I’m ashamed to be part of it. 

England used to be represented by arrogant upper-class gentlemen whose word was their bond, who had become rich and titled by sycophancy, piracy and theft, who invaded other countries (most notably – and unsuccessfully – America) and imposed what they believed were their superior beliefs and standards on the unfortunate residents.  (English upper-class gentlewomen stayed at home to crochet bobble hats for the dogs, the Scots were just heathens in skirts, the Welsh were the Irish who couldn’t swim and the Irish provided the third character in racist jokes.)

Britain has a long and ignoble history of deporting toxic waste.  While this is now old electronic equipment and nuclear waste, it used to be indigent peasants who had done terrible things like poaching one of the squire’s pheasants to feed their family.  So started the genocide of Australia’s Aboriginal population, which is still going on.

In May, Rio Tinto discovered good quality iron ore under some 46,000-year-old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia that they knew were sacred to their traditional Aboriginal owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, and they did what any greedy-bastard company would do and blew them up. 

It’s taken 4 months for Rio TNT (as the Australian prime minister apparently now calls them) to be shamed into firing its chief executive and two other senior executives but it leaves a serious question about the honour of the other directors who feel able to continue their association with the company after such a despicable act.

What’s finally broken the camel’s back here is the prime minister’s proposing a Bill that even government ministers admit is illegal, insisting in a recent article in the Telegraph that it’s “crucial for peace and for the union itself” and voting it down would reduce the chances of a trade deal with the EU.  What part of ‘illegal’ doesn’t he understand?  Well, OK, there’s Barnard Castle but that was Cummings not him wasn’t it.

During this week’s annual general meeting of the Bar Council, the attorney general, Suella Braverman, was accused of sacrificing the UK’s reputation, and asked how Britain could retain “a shred of credibility” in imploring other countries to follow international law after revealing its own willingness to breach agreements

The most senior EU leaders in Brussels have said they no longer trust Johnson since he is willing to breach a painstakingly negotiated agreement on Northern Ireland but Johnson’s complete loss of credibility extends way beyond Brexit:  Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, has declared there will be “absolutely no chance” of a US-UK trade deal if he continues his illegal action. 

Luckily, there are many Conservative MPs with principles who might put their ethics before their politics and oppose the motion but, if it does get through, a ‘no deal’ Brexit becomes a real possibility, particularly since Johnson said earlier this week that Britain will walk away if agreement isn’t reached by 15 October.  

Unsurprisingly, there’s been a dramatic reaction of disapproval and disgust even from his own side and British business leaders are warning Johnson against a ‘no deal’ exit after he said this would be a “good outcome”.  Both the CBI and the Institute of Directors believe reaching a deal is essential if the economy is to avoid worsening the deepest recession since modern records began as the FTSE100 dropped below 6,000 last week (after touching 8,000 during one day’s trading last year) and the value of sterling continues to fall against both the Euro and the US dollar.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 provides some sort of distraction as the number of infections increases and our freedom is being reduced again and, from tomorrow, no more than six people can meet either indoors or outdoors.  There’s even a rumour that 3-a-side football is suddenly going to become very popular. 

According to leaked official documents Johnson believes that mass testing is “our only hope for avoiding a second national lockdown before a vaccine”, and he’s planning for up to 10 million tests a day.  This would mean that every single person in the country would be tested every six days and cynics are tempted to believe he might not be intelligent enough to have realised the implications of carrying out 10m tests a day:  if each tester can carry out 100 tests a day, we’ll need 100,000 people collecting samples and at least another 100,000 testing them. Either that or he forgot the number, guessed it, and got it wrong. That actually sounds more in character.

Since a second surge has always been on the cards, this can’t be entirely blamed on Johnson’s unconscionable delay in introducing the lockdown or even his easing the restrictions far too early but we’re likely to see Johnson’s 19th Nervous Breakdown and more people are going to suffer and die from the coronavirus.

How can anyone now trust our prime minister or any MP who supports him?

Or Donald Trump come to that.  Another week, another book, this one by Bob Woodward, half of the Woodstein team that uncovered Watergate and ousted Richard Nixon.  Called ‘Rage’, it exposes yet more of Trump’s backstory as a mindless and inconsistent bigot, the most surprising thing about it being that Trump allowed his ravings to be taped and on the record, including his admission that he knew early on just how serious Covid-19 was but lied about it so as not to frighten people. 

Woodward has been criticised for not revealing some of the more shocking information earlier but has said he needed to check sources and verify the accuracy of what he wrote before he published it.

And now a convicted criminal, Roger Stone, whose 40-month prison sentence was commuted by Trump, has said that Trump should seize total power and jail prominent figures including Bill and Hillary Clinton and Mark Zuckerberg if he loses in November.

And finally, I mentioned last week the kindness of the woman who was so ashamed by the UK’s treatment of the 11 Syrian refugees flown by the Home Office to Madrid and abandoned there that she stepped in to help.  Her name is now known:  she’s Barbara Pomfret, who advises companies on corporate social responsibility.  She’s paid for food and accommodation for the group (who are all from the same part of southern Syria and want to stay together) and has set up a crowdfunding page for them.  What people like Johnson and Trump could learn from people like her.

Love and kindness, unkindness and stupidity

6 September 2020

Some interviews with ‘celebrities’ ask “Have you ever said ‘I love you’ and not meant it’?”

Before I answered that, I’d need the questioner to define love because I ‘love’ so many things.  I love my wife, I love my children, I love my friends, I love books, I love pictures, I love the countryside, I love music, I love the smell of lily-of-the-valley, I love swimming, I love the feel of rain in my face, I love the softness of a labrador’s ears.  Put like this, it’s clear that the word ‘love’ covers a whole range of feelings.  Then take into account that all the examples I’ve just given are very subjective and have no objective validity for other people.

There is another, more generalised dimension to love which encompasses our relations with the world outside, like a general love of cats which leads people to feed feral cats in urban wastelands, or a concern for homeless people that involves them in projects to improve their lives.

I’ve given examples of this in previous blogs and called it ‘kindness’ which is perhaps one of the manifestations of love.

The ancient Greek philosophers had quite a lot of words we translate as ‘love’, the best known, at least to people who were ever taught about the Bible, probably coming from the King James English translation of the Greek version of 1 Corinthians 13:13 “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity”, where the Greek word agápe is translated as ‘charity’.  Most subsequent revisions and translations translate it as ‘love’ although the original meaning of the English word ‘charity’ was arguably closer to the mark.

Agápe implies selfless universal love, such as the love for strangers, nature, or a God, an unconditional compassion and empathy that is extended to everyone else in the whole world.

In English – as used in that stupid interview question – ‘love’ tends to imply what the Greeks called éros, which covers intimacy and sexual love and includes the physical pleasure associated with it, while ludus is a sort of eros Lite, covering mutually enjoyable flirting and having a crush on someone, and philia describes the reciprocated friendship, regard and affection between friends and close family members. 

Storge describes the affection and loyalty that accompanies a sense of ‘duty’ felt by parents towards their children or by people towards a country, political creed or football team, xenia covers kindness to strangers and hospitality, giving of yourself to people you don’t know and philautia is basically self-confidence, which can be good when it means being comfortable enough in your own skin to love others, or bad when it’s linked to sociopathy.

All these words can be translated and interpreted as ‘love’ but it’s interesting to see in how many forms ‘love’ appears, and surely kindness is implicit in almost all the Greek words. 

If only more people were kind, and remember this doesn’t mean imagining what you might like if you were in their situation, it’s what you think they might like in their situation.

This is, of course, all getting philosophical and textbookish and, predictably, I have hang-ups about philosophy:  it seems to involve a lot of armchair research that has no practical application in the world we inhabit, but that’s probably just because I’m not clever enough, and don’t get enough time to sit in armchairs.

In the real world, remember Marcus Rashford, a young footballer who forced the government into one if its U-turns back in June?  His latest target is to end child food poverty in Britain and he’s formed a task force, the Child Food Poverty Task Force, working with FairShare, the Food Foundation and many of the country’s best-known food brands.  He’s described the poverty of his own childhood, saying “I know that feeling [of a 9-year old trying to protect their family], that was my reality”.  

Down at our level in the real world, perhaps we should all just try to think less about ourselves and more about other people and if they might welcome any kindness

So many people aren’t kind.  Have you ever, in your wildest dreams, imagined the Gaslighter-in-Chief, Donald Trump, doing something kind, or even laughing?

This blog often highlights unkindnesses and stupidity in the hope that more people will be sufficiently shocked to think how they could do to make life better for others.

Random examples this week include:

  • Heathrow has told its 4,700 staff in the front line that their pay will be cut by 15-20% if they want to avoid losing their jobs;  their announcement omitted to say if the money they give to directors and shareholders would also be cut and the omission gives us the answer.
  • British Airways has furloughed tens of thousands of staff during the pandemic and is now planning to get rid of 10,000 jobs.  Willie Walsh, BA’s boss, agreed in March to reduce his basic pay (£850,000) by 20% but he was given £3.2m last year and, now he’s leaving, will be given another £883,000;  other senior executives will also receive huge bonuses.  Regardless of contractual ‘rights’, surely these should be forgone?
  • Back in the 1970s, Tony Abbott, former prime minister of Australia, was reported by Liz Jackson to have said “I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons” and, in a 2010 TV interview, “I probably feel a bit threatened [by homosexuality], as so many people do. It’s a fact of life.”  (Not mine mate.)  Boris Johnson is now appointing him a special trade adviser.
  • Johnson has officially started the construction of HS2 (now estimated to cost £105bn of your money and mine) which will destroy AONBs, SSSIs, woodlands and the lives of many thousands of people on its route for the benefit of a few people who think they need to save 15 minutes when travelling between Birmingham and London.  (Why not just invite all its supporters to provide the £105bn in return for unlimited free first-class travel on the HS2 trains for themselves and all their descendants for the next three generations, and give the £105bn saved to the NHS and schools?)
  • Lebanon has discovered another 4.3 tonnes of undocumented ammonium nitrate near the port of Beirut.  (Sounds like an opportunity for Ryanair to offer cheap flights to ringside seats in Beirut for 5 November.)
  • At the end of August, Apple’s market value was greater than the combined value of all companies in the FTSE 100 index.
  • Water companies in England discharged raw sewage into rivers more than 200,000 times last year;  in February this year, a permit was issued for the import of 27,500 tonnes of sewage sludge containing human waste from the Netherlands.

Let’s finish with another kindness.

The Home Office has chartered an aeroplane to deport 11 Syrian asylum seekers, many of them without any identity documentation, and has just abandoned them at Madrid airport.  A Guardian reader who lives in Spain has offered to help and she’s now trying to arrange local support for them.

UK v USA, elephant envy, MGTOW, cricketer’s luck and not as kind as I’d thought

30 August 2020

Even the Daily Mail finally gave up on the Tories this week with the headline “Another fine mess” and asked “Why is education secretary still in a job… when will PM get a grip?”  One journalist has calculated that, so far, Boris Johnson has done 11 U-turns;  another has counted 18.  Whichever, however many there have been so far, the government is just going round in circles.

Johnson’s latest set-back is Germany’s withdrawal from a meeting next week to discuss Brexit in the absence of “any tangible progress” during a wasted summer.  EU officials are now convinced Johnson will refuse to negotiate, leave without a deal, and then blame Brussels for his failure.

The government is also delaying the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe by refusing to pay the £400m owed to Iran until a court hearing on 4 November, the day after America’s presidential elections – well, we wouldn’t want to offend Donald Trump would we?  So Zaghari-Ratcliffe is stuck in Iran because the UK is scared of America.

Over there, the sh*tshow of the week was the Republican National Convention which celebrated Trump’s “swift action” to protect American lives in the week when the number of Americans killed by the coronavirus topped 180,000, more than any other country in the world.  Thank heavens he wasn’t indecisive and slow off the mark.

Speakers at the RNC talked as if the pandemic is over even though it killed more people last week than died in the 9/11 attacks.   The only speaker who was reported as expressing any sympathy for those suffering as a result of the pandemic was Melania Trump.  I’ll bet there was a frosty silence over the presidential Macburgers that night.

Mike Veep Pence did say “Make America great again, again”, implicitly admitting that they hadn’t managed it during the last 4 years, and a clearly unhinged Trump appeared on Thursday, speaking to a rally at the White House where some 1,500 dedicated camp followers were not required to wear face masks or observe physical distancing.

On the same day, tens of thousands of people gathered for the ‘Get Your Knee Off Our Necks’ march in Washington DC.  Organisers reminded protestors to wear masks and keep physically distanced and took the temperatures of marchers.

The Trump fan club cheered as he promised to make more jobs for the ever-increasing number of American unemployed (estimated in early July to exceed 50 million people) and to land an American woman on the moon (though he didn’t say who he had in mind, or whether he’d bring her back).

Over here, the nationalised power company EDF Energy (well, it’s owned by the French nation isn’t it?) admitted the Hunterston nuclear power station on the Firth of Clyde is getting dangerous and will be closed down next year rather than in 2023 as had been planned.  Let’s hope the bits falling off the graphite cladding don’t cause a melt-down before it’s shut down.

Some of us who suffer chronic but low-grade pain have just become envious of Warsaw zoo’s elephants who are about to start getting medical marijuana to reduce their stress levels.  I was thinking of growing a trunk but heard that vets have already used it on dogs and horses so maybe I’ll just start peeing on lampposts.

Meanwhile, a bunch of men have gathered together in a group called MGTOW – Men Going Their Own Way – whose members plan to live with no female contact.  Brilliant!  That’ll die out as its members age and die without procreating.

A study of workers across a range of industries carried out last year by an American journal, Organisational Dynamics, found that #MeToo has some men running scared.  27% of men now avoid one-on-one meetings with female co-workers, 21% of men said they would be reluctant to hire women for a job that would require close interaction (such as business travel) and 19% of men would be reluctant to hire an attractive woman.  Which implies that 20-30% of men in positions senior enough to make these decisions are deeply insecure.

I can’t imagine a life without women, whose company I generally find much more agreeable then men’s.  I remember once having a conversation with some of my women staff about ironing shirts, and whether one does the arms before or after the body.  I seemed to be the only one who did the arms first (still do actually).

Perhaps my lack of insecurity with women is because, looking at alpha males, I realise that not only am I an omega male but I don’t care.

Despite the absence of some basic religious requirements, I decided I could never be a monk but I wouldn’t mind being a nun.  (Anybody else remember Jake Thackray’s ‘Sister Josephine’?  If you don’t, is worth a visit.)

Another of my heroes, Banksy, is financing a rescue boat saving migrants’ lives in the Mediterranean.  It rescued 89 people on Thursday, and was off the Libyan coast while the European authorities were ignoring them.  Lea Reisner, the boat’s head of operations summarised the situation with admirable forthrightness:  “The people have sat in a mix of salt water and fuel for days.  It is night and European states are not doing their fucking job.  They deny responsibility while we are trying to keep everyone alive … we need immediate assistance.”

By Saturday, it had 219 migrants on board and the decks were too crowded for it to be able to move.  The Italian coastguard took 49 of the “most vulnerable” on board and another humanitarian ship, Sea-Watch 4, has since taken the others.

Kevin O’Brien plays cricket for Ireland and, on Thursday, playing for Leinster Lightning against North-West Warriors, he hit eight sixes and scored a total of 82 off 37 balls, one of which landed in the car park and smashed a car’s window.  However, his luck extended beyond the boundary:  the car whose window got broken was his.  (Imagine his embarrassment if it had been somebody else’s.)

Last week, I praised what appeared to be a generous gift of £700,000 of equipment from Tesco Mobile to help Crisis provide homeless people with mobile phones.  This week, I received a text from Tesco Mobile saying

“… between now and 2023, Tesco Mobile Reconnects will donate over £2.4 million worth of [equipment] to help thousands of people reconnect with society … The money we raise through phone and text donations will help more Crisis members keep connected … Text donations cost £2 plus your standard network rate to send to a premium number.”

In other words, they’ll give Crisis more if I give it to them first and they’ll charge me £2, which goes straight into their coffers, for every donation I make to them, so they’ve turned this into a nice little earner.  It seems I overestimated their social conscience last week so give directly to Crisis if you want to help.

Horseflies, brilliant GCHQ cock-up, self-effacing politicians, U-turns, misogyny, Democrats v. Trump, and more kindness

23 August 2020

Mosquitos last week, this week horseflies.

We know of course that horseflies don’t leave a single puncture mark but make a small slash in the skin, about 1mm long, (and that spider bites leave a pair of puncture holes) but it’s been discovered that their judgement of distance is affected by bold patterns.  Presumably we should all now wear tartan trousers (or plaid pants if we’re in America) and patterned shirts on picnics.

GCHQ, Britain’s top intelligence agency, tweets puzzles every so often.  The most recent one asked what letter comes next in the sequence C, U, T, S, I, U, N.  The correct answer is T because the series takes the fourth letter of every major planet in the solar system in the order of their distance from the sun but, when they published the answer, an intelligence official unwittingly – or wittingly, who knows? – didn’t name all the planets  and listed only the first two and the last two, using an ellipsis to cover the others.  The ‘solution’ thus read “Mercury, Venus, …, Uranus, Neptune”.  It was expanded to show the full list within 20 minutes but the rude word suggested by the original answer had already hit the internet.

Much less interesting has been the reactions to the algorithmic exam results.  Two days after Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson assured people there would be “no U-turn, no change”, he apologised and ordered a complete reversal, though he tried to blame the fiasco on the regulator Ofqual.

The non-executive chair of Ofqual, Roger Taylor, then threatened to resign unless Williamson withdrew his criticism, reminding him they’d told him a month earlier that they’d received a report saying the algorithm was “volatile” and flawed.  It’s believed that Williamson tried to water down his apology but Taylor insisted and Williamson finally said “We have full confidence in Ofqual and its leadership in their role as independent regulator.”  The DfE further confirmed that it had been Ofqual’s decision, not Williamson’s, to drop the results produced by the algorithm.

Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.

The government has also been shamed by the incompetence of its response to the coronavirus pandemic.  When commenting on the dismal failure of Serco’s coronavirus track-and-trace system, an official statement said “Serco and its team of specialist sub-contractors has played an important part in in helping reach hundreds of thousands of people who might have passed on the virus” and that they had been “93% successful in persuading people to isolate” where contact with people had been made (my emphasis).  This statement was issued by – yes, you guessed it – Serco.

On the bright side, a new book ‘Men to Avoid in Art and Life’ by Nicole Tersigni is being published tomorrow by Chronicle Books.  It takes the mickey out of mansplainers by pasting deadpan captions onto classical pictures which show men sharing their expertise on subjects like breastfeeding and period pain. Tersigni is a comedy writer and says she published the book partly to show that the same misogyny has existed for centuries, and partly because older paintings are more likely to be out of copyright.

The two examples I’ve seen are very funny and could help to take our minds off Brexit, which is still creeping up on us, with no substantive progress having apparently been made on any of the vast differences between the leavers’ promises and reality, and Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has been reported by the BBC as saying that and EU-UK trade deal “seems unlikely”.

To add insult to injury, a wild pear tree in South Cubbington wood, which is estimated to be 250 years old, still bears fruit and was voted England’s Tree of the Year in 2015, is to be felled so HS2 can be built;  and the completion of CrossRail has been delayed yet again, this time until 2022, while costs have escalated by yet another half a million pounds.

Shouldn’t all future governments be required to organise a booze-up in a brewery before they’re allowed to run the country? 

In America, Joe Biden’s appointment of Kamala Harris as his running mate gives some of us a lot of hope that the Democrats might really oust Donald Trump (I daren’t believe in that until it actually happens) and the presentations at the Democratic convention were impressive:  sadly no Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez but Michelle Obama stole the show and Kristin Urquiza blamed Trump for misleading America about the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic.  “My dad was a healthy 65-year old”, she said.  “His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life.”

Trump’s older sister Maryanne Trump Barry, who is a federal judge, was secretly recorded by their niece Mary a couple of years ago.  The recordings have been heard by the Washington Post and Associated Press.

She was less than complimentary about her brother, saying “He has no principles” and, when asked what he reads, “He doesn’t read”.  Later she said “I’m talking too freely, but you know. The change of stories. The lack of preparation. The lying. Holy shit … It’s the phoniness of it all. It’s the phoniness and this cruelty. Donald is cruel.”

More recently, a California judge has ordered Trump to pay Stormy Daniels’ legal costs of $44,100 and another American judge opened the door for Manhattan’s district attorney to access his tax returns (although, sadly, they may not be public before the election). 

Is a smidgeon of schadenfreude forgivable here?

The charity, Crisis, is planning to give homeless people 2,500 free handsets and mobile packages because an email address is often more valuable to them than a sleeping bag and, with Iain Duncan’s Smith’s universal credit scheme, claimants have to log on daily.  IDS is of course another of the government’s not-geniuses, along with Gavin Williamson, Matt Hancock, Robert Jenrick, Priti Patel, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson – oh, good heavens, there are far too many to credit individually – who are left in place to provide a thin blue line where the buck is supposed to stop before it claims Johnson. 

Tesco Mobile is giving £700,000 of equipment in the first year, with more to follow.  Perhaps corporate social responsibility departments are beginning to wake up to the fact that they’re not just token attempts to compensate for corporate greed but that genuine kindness trumps political donations and peerages for Russian oligarchs.

It’s also encouraging to see the increase in personal kindnesses shown by a 561% increase in one-off donations as well as a 112% rise in regular donations to charities via WPNC’s online donation platform.  Other donation platforms have also seen increases in individual giving. 

Perhaps there is still hope in the kindness of people who care more about things other than their bank balance.

VJ Day, misogyny, mosquitos, Trump’s lies, the recession and corporate ‘kindness’

16 August 2020

After the light relief in last week’s blog, it’s back to the important stuff this week.

One of this week’s most significant events occurred when Japan recognised the 75th anniversary of its surrender in the second world war and Emperor Naruhito expressed “deep remorse” over his country’s actions during World War II.  His father Akihito devoted much of his 30-year reign to making amends for the war fought by his own father, Hirohito, and Naruhito has vowed to continue this.

Rather more in keeping with our western beliefs about Japanese reluctance to admit defeat was prime minister Shinzo Abe’s failure to apologise while he offered thanks for the sacrifices of the Japanese war dead.

Our own western culture can be judged from what Arwa Mahdawi has just reported about a right-wing troll called Ben Shapiro who is having a hissy fit over Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s new hit single ‘WAP’ and he has explained in a video that WAP stands for “Wet-ass P-word, P-word is female genitalia.”  Good heavens!  How could women be so crude?  This is men’s work, as proved by some brainless idiot called Donald Trump who was recorded about his ability to grab women’s pussies (a well-known – at least in ‘locker rooms’ – way of endearing a woman to you for life).

Mahdawi also reminded us that legislators in Ohio last year introduced a bill that would have required doctors to “reimplant an ectopic pregnancy” into a woman’s uterus (which is medically impossible) or face charges of “abortion murder.”  And that an Idaho Republican had asked if women could swallow tiny cameras for remote gynaecological examinations and said he was fascinated to learn that things women swallow don’t end up in their vagina.  I wonder where he (yes, of course it was a man) thought their food went.

Also in America, the state of Mississippi is selecting a new state flag to replace the one that included a Confederate battle emblem.  It invited suggestions from the public with the only limitations being that it must include “In God We Trust” and no Confederate symbols.  Almost 3,000 people suggested designs and the state department of archives and history short-listed 147 of them.  Rather too late, someone discovered that one of them included a giant mosquito surrounded by a circle of stars so they now only have to reject another 145.  I’d have gone for the mosquito because, although I’ve never been to Mississippi, I have been to the Everglades and the mozzies in Florida carry poisoned machetes.

In July, the Washington Post reported that Trump had told more than 20,000 “false or misleading claims” over the course of his presidency and he finally exceeded our wildest expectations at a press conference on Thursday when Shirish V Dáte, a senior HuffPost White House correspondent, asked

“Mr President, after three and a half years, do you regret at all, all the lying you’ve done to the American people?”  

Completely fazed, Trump said “All the what?”

Dáte: “All the lying, all the dishonesties.”

Trump: “That who has done?”

“You have done,” said Dáte. “Tens of thousan–”, he began to say, before Trump turned away, cut him off and called on another journalist.

Later, Trump admitted he’d refused the United States Postal Service extra money in order to make it more difficult to deliver postal votes in the presidential election.  Former presidents are usually very tactful about their successors’ peccadilloes but Barack Obama accused Trump of “knee-capping” the postal service.

A small ray of hope emerged in America as Joe Biden appointed the California senator Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate.  Trump immediately called her a “nasty woman” because she’d been so tough on the not-rapist Brett Kavanaugh during his trial for not attempting to not rape Dr Christine Blasey Ford when they were or weren’t teenagers.

Over here in the UK, the parliament’s buggered off for the summer as the second surge of coronavirus infections starts to take off in Europe and holidaymakers in various countries are now being given an extra fortnight’s holiday quarantining themselves at home after they get back to Blighty.  ‘Staycationers’ are travelling to rural areas to spread their urban germs and we yokels are all looking forward to Covid-19 causing more, localised lock-downs and increases in long-lasting infections and deaths.

The Office of National Statistics has reported that GDP fell by 20.4% in the April to June quarter when compared with the previous quarter, a greater fall than any other major nation and the greatest quarterly decline since comparable records began in 1955.

And, as Britain’s economy collapses, the next generation of Einsteins and Stephen Hawkings is being held back because their exam grades are being allocated by geeks with just enough intelligence to write computer programs and algorithms (which require the application of a certain type of logic, only average intelligence and, from the number of bugs that are constantly being fixed, very short-attention spans).

This week also produced an intriguing report that Adam Partington celebrated his 40th birthday with his partner, Gemma Cann, on new paddleboards on the River Cam and “After gliding past Cambridge’s ancient colleges, the couple stopped at Grantchester Meadows at the edge of the city for a picnic”.  Anybody who knows Cambridge will realise they must have started somewhere near Magdelene College, paddled up the Backs, porteraged their boards and the picnic hamper up the ramp beside the sluice gates onto the upper river, which here becomes the River Granta, then continued up to Grantchester Meadows.

A side-effect of Britain’s economic collapse is that many large companies that have claimed millions from government pandemic funds are still paying billions in dividends to shareholders.  Shouldn’t the government have made the funding conditional on the imposition of a maximum wage and required that no dividends or bonuses could be paid until 100% of government funding had been repaid?

However, at least one organisation was honourable enough to do the right thing:  Dr Martens has repaid its furlough cash to the government after its sales had increased nearly 50% in the year to June.  Even profit-oriented companies can show kindness and some social responsibility.

Light relief including pedantry, neologisms, electricity, mistalking foreign and instinct

9 August 2020

One of the pleasures I get from writing this blog each week is when somebody contacts me with a comment or an addition to something I’ve said.  Last week, for example, I mentioned my theory about how Robert Maxwell died, peeing over the side of his yacht, and a friend told me her sister used to work on his yacht and he didn’t just pee over the side – he would often just pee on the floor of his cabin and then call for staff to come and clear it up.  She didn’t stay long.

What an utterly disgusting man he was.  Why would anyone do something like that?

One of the other pleasures is discovering the things people unwittingly say and write.  For example, Wednesday’s Mail Online headlined “Fearless, funny and so hard-working – we salute you PRINCESS ANNE!” 

We pedants call this a ‘dangling participle phrase’ which actually says that “we” (the Mail Online journalists) are “fearless, funny and so hard-working”, rather than Princess Anne.  This they may be of course but one assumes they actually meant to say it was Anne who was fearless, funny etc.  How simple it would have been for a sub-editor to correct this by adding the word “She’s” at the very beginning.

Another famous example of this error is: “Punting down the river, the chapel came in view.”

Princess Anne will be 70 on 15 August (hence the Mail’s sycophancy) and I must admit to having a sneaky regard for her myself.  She and the queen seem to be the only two blood royals who have retained some dignity while all around them are losing theirs – women win again.

At this point, I must emphasise that, while I enjoy pedantry, I also love new words and the changing way they’re used.  I greatly enjoyed the results of this year’s Washington Post competition to invent new words or new meanings for old words.  My favourites from this year’s winners are:Coffee (n):  the person upon whom one coughs.

  • Coffee (n):  the person upon whom one coughs.
  • Esplanade (v):  to attempt an explanation while drunk.
  • Willy-nilly (adj):  impotent.
  • Gargoyle (n):  olive-flavoured mouthwash.
  • Frisbeetarianism (n):  the belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

They also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.  My favourites of these are:

  • Bozone (n):  the substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating;  the bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
  • Cashtration (n):  the act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
  • Osteopornosis (n):  a degenerate disease.
  • Glibido (v):  all talk and no action.
  • Ignoranus (n):  a person who’s both stupid and an asshole.

And here are two I made earlier:

  • Mistalking (n):  the act of lying because one’s too lazy to have read the brief;  currently particularly common amongst the leading politicians of the 3rd largest country in the world and a small, former member of the European Union.
  • Corpulation (n):  the sexual coupling of two overweight people.

Did you know that the National Grid has to keep the grid’s frequency at around 50 hertz in order to avoid power fluctuations that can lead to power cuts.  At the moment, the energy grid’s electrical frequency has been controlled by the spinning turbines in traditional power stations but windfarms and other renewable energy sources don’t have turbines so the Electricity System Operator can be forced to shut down windfarms and keep gas-fired power stations running.

Now a giant flywheel is being built in north-east Scotland which it is hoped will mimic the effect of these turbines and stabilise the grid’s electrical frequency from next winter, allowing the Electricity System Operator to use more renewable energy and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

Our electricity supplier, Octopus Energy, claims “All our electricity is sourced from 100% renewable sources, like sunshine, wind, and water” but I’m now beginning to wonder if this can always be so.  Still better some than none.

Incidentally, if you have a power line running over your property (not connected to your house), you might be entitled to a wayleave payment for it.  We discovered this when a firm of chancers wrote offering to collect this for us if we weren’t already getting it. 

They didn’t mention fees but I assumed that they’d want a large chunk of any payment we were due so I naturally wrote directly to our power supplier and, after a few formalities, we got a back payment for the time we’d been living here and now get an annual payment of about £30.

Elsewhere, a Canadian brewery and a leather store in New Zealand have both used the Māori word ‘Huruhuru’ for, respectively, a beer and a shop.  To people who speak te reo, the Māori language, it means pubic hair.  The owner of the leather shop said he thought it meant ‘feather’ and apologised.  Ho yerss.  A leather shop, pubic hair.  Definitely a coincidence.

It was also reported recently that, in a similarly Freudian slip in 2018, Coca-Cola publicised one of its drinks in New Zealand with the phrase ‘Kia ora mate’.  ‘Kia ora’ is a greeting meaning ‘be well’ but ‘mate’ can be translated as ‘death’.

Anybody else remember when, in 1965, Rolls Royce called its new model the Silver Mist but changed its name to the Silver Shadow after a linguist (who presumably wasn’t in the marketing department) pointed out that, in Germany, ‘mist’ means ‘shit’?

In America, the New York attorney general, Letitia James, has filed a lawsuit to dissolve the National Rifle Association, probably the country’s most influential and lethal lobby group.  The suit claims that four of its top officials have been stealing millions from the NRA and have turned the organisation into “a breeding ground for greed, abuse and brazen illegality”.  Good luck with that – I’d vote for her and I don’t even know if she’s red or blue (though my instinct says she’s blue).

Why is instinct so often dismissed and ignored?  Intuition is even less respected.   One morning, a father woke with a bad feeling, that something wasn’t right, so he kept his daughter at home from school.  It was 6 August 1945 in Hiroshima and Keiko Ogura survived to bear witness to the full horrors of the small atomic bomb which killed an estimated 100,000 – 150,000 people, half of them on the first day.  There are surely two lessons here:  trust your intuition and don’t build bombs.

Solitary confinement, nuclear fusion, Trump’s hearing aid, racism and more kindness

2 August 2020

Many people have been in solitary confinement during the pandemic and its physical and psychological effects are likely to be long-lasting.  With the added fear of catching the coronavirus and being seriously ill, or dying, some people won’t survive unscathed or, in some cases, at all.

For those who have a garden or other access to an outside space, it hasn’t been so bad but for those who live on the upper floors of tower blocks and haven’t been outside their flat since March it’s been much more difficult.  Some can talk to friends and family through the internet and even see them in video calls but it isn’t the same as being in the same room and able to touch them.

Our individual reactions to isolation vary widely – some relishing long periods alone and some feeling abandoned and forgotten, and there is no simple solution for the latter.  (Or, as some wag once put it, “for every complex problem, there’s a simple solution – and it’s wrong”.) 

All anyone can do is decide what are the things that are worst for them, accept that they can’t change (m)any of them and try to find the best way of living with them.  More TV?  More gaming?  More music?  More reading?  More exercises?  More writing?  Whatever works for you.

Imagine the people who live with someone they no longer like, or who abuses them, and how they must feel after being confined with that person for months on end.

There are people who can help you talk things through, such as the Samaritans but even they can’t get the government to improve your circumstances.

Concentrate on the good bits of news, such as an international project to build the world’s largest nuclear fusion project that’s just starting.  (Nuclear fusion is when atoms are combined to live in harmony;  nuclear fission was originally called ‘splitting the atom’ and can lead to large explosions such as Hiroshima, Chernobyl and Fukushima).  Both processes produce vast amounts of energy but fusion reactors can’t meltdown and they produce much less radioactive waste.

One of the components is an electromagnet, called the central solenoid, which will be able to lift an aircraft carrier.  Think of the other uses to which such a powerful magnet could be put – we could slow vehicles doing 50 in our 20 zone and armies could use one to confuse missiles.  I wonder if I could fit one in my handbag.

America’s Washington NFL team recently changed its name and imagery from ‘Redskins’ after 87 years.   Sadly, in the UK, the Exeter Chiefs rugby club voted on Wednesday to retain the racist logo it’s only used since 1999.

250 years after their land was stolen from them, the Esselen tribe has just completed the purchase of a 1,200-acre ranch near the Big Sur in California for educational and cultural purposes.  Tom Little Bear Nason said “We’re the original stewards of the land. Now we’re returned … We are going to conserve it and pass it on to our children and grandchildren and beyond.”

And something interesting appeared at Donald Trump’s press briefing this week:  a small plastic tube that could be seen looping over from behind his left ear and disappearing into it, something that is instantly recognisable to those of us who wear hearing aids.  So he’s deaf as well as stupid.  Or he has an earpiece connected to somebody who actually knows things.

Why do I worry about the public release of documents relating to an earlier case against Ghislaine Maxwell before the current charges against her are heard?  Most media naturally print only the more salacious bits and we don’t get balanced reports.  So how can she possibly have a fair trial when many people will already have been influenced by these incomplete stories?

She was of course her father’s favourite daughter and, having met her father a few times, I can confidently say I didn’t like him much.

Actually, I have my own theory about Maxwell Senior’s death, the cause of which has never been definitively decided.  I don’t believe he was killed on the instructions of Mossad, or that he jumped.  I think he was just as unpleasant to the yacht’s crew as he was to everyone else and, while he was having his regular evening pee over the side, one of the crew happened to be passing and, on the spur of the moment, and gave him just enough of a nudge to push him overboard.

Scientists have also explained this week why ‘leaves on the line’ slow trains. I’d always thought actually leaves got squashed and mulched and became slippery, but it’s more complicated than that.  The squashed leaves themselves, which are acidic, rot away but they leave behind their tannins, which react with the surface of iron rails to form a black layer that reduces friction between the wheels and the line.  So leave the yard broom at home and take caustic soda and a scrubbing brush.

Seth Rogen, a Canadian-American actor, has said that “[As] a Jewish person, I was fed a huge amount of lies about Israel my entire life” and nobody mentioned that more than 700,000 people were driven out of their homes or fled the war that led to Israel’s creation, or that the land they were living on had previously had people living on it.  There are now some 5.6 million refugee descendants of the people who were displaced by the creation of the state of Israel but you won’t learn that in an Israeli school.

Many high-profile Jews are critical of Israel and one, Peter Beinart, a prominent Jewish American political commentator, has publicly questioned whether he can remain a liberal and support the Jewish state while millions of Palestinians are deprived of basic human rights.  If a non-Jewish member of the Labour party said that, they’d be accused of anti-semitism.  Such is the power of the Israeli propaganda machine.

(In America this week, the Arkansas Republican senator Tom Cotton said the enslavement of millions of African people was “the necessary evil upon which the union was built”.  Such is the power of the Republican propaganda machine.)

In Bethlehem in 2017, Banksy helped set up what he described as the hotel with the worst view in the world, looking out directly onto the barrier that separates Israel from Palestine.  He naturally called it the Walled Off Hotel (geddit?).  He then painted a triptych called ‘Mediterranean Sea View 2017’, three traditional style pictures featuring dramatic seascapes to which he added lifebuoys and orange lifejackets discarded by migrants on the beach in the foreground. 

They hung on the walls of the hotel until recently when he sold them to raise money for a new acute stroke unit and children’s rehabilitation equipment for the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation, a non-profit, non-governmental hospital that is “a leading provider of medical, surgical and rehabilitation services in Palestine”.  Two anonymous telephone bidders fought for the pictures and they finally raised £2.2m for the hospital, almost twice Sothebys’ estimate.

In December last year, Nadia Whittome was elected as the Labour MP for Nottingham East and became the youngest member of parliament.  Her salary before tax and other deductions will be £81,932 but she reckons she doesn’t need this much so she’s pledged to give £100,000 to charity over the next four years.  Nottingham CVS is helping her select “a small handful” of local charities and trade union branches to share this year’s £20,000, with more money going to a new group of charities each year till the 2024 general election.

Both Banksy and Whittome could have kept the money but both realised they don’t need that much so they gave it away.  These are the sort of people who should be running the world.

News media trustworthiness, Johnson and Trump choke on their feet, Famous Five Go Mad, and more kindnesses

26 July 2020

When I was young(er), my family took the News Chronicle, a daily paper that had been owned by the Cadbury family (Quakers who built Bournville ‘village’ to house its workers).  I can remember my father’s disgust when, on day in October 1960, the News Chronicle failed to appear and the newsagent replaced it with the Daily Herald because they’d judged correctly that we wouldn’t have wanted the Daily Mail which had taken it over.

As was his wont when life crossed his path, my father stormed off to the newsagent, returned the Daily Herald and demanded his tuppence ha’penny back and, from then on, we took the Manchester Guardian, later to become the Guardian, rightly celebrated for its wonderful typographical errors and the eccentricity of some of the contributors to its letters page.

When the Guardian announced recently it’s having to cut 180 jobs, 12% of its workforce, I felt a sense of shock and almost understood how my father’s mind had worked (probably for the first – and only – time) when the News Chronicle disappeared.  I didn’t really realise how important it is to me, and to the world at large, that Britain still has one truly independent newspaper that is owned by a private philanthropic trust rather than by media moguls and plutogarchs* who control governments.

Access to the Guardian news website remains free when even the Washington Post limits the number of articles you can read in a month without paying.

A survey of 2,823 people carried out in April by YouGov on behalf of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford produced some interesting results.  People were asked about their perceptions of various UK media outlets and their coverage of the pandemic so far.  Unsurprisingly, TV outlets got the highest scores, probably because they are more widely used.  Equally unsurprisingly, the BBC was perceived as way ahead of the competition with 60% saying they were doing a good job, compared with ITV (36%), Channel 4 (32%), and Sky (28%).  The BBC’s coverage was approved by a majority right across the political spectrum.

After deducting the people who thought each paper was doing a bad job from those who thought it was doing a good job, 19% thought the Guardian was doing a good job, streets ahead of its nearest competitor (the Times) which only got 7%. Papers that a majority thought were not doing a good job included the Telegraph (-1%), the Mail (-12%) and the Sun (-18%) – no surprises here then.

This clear consensus, unrelated to political leanings, about which was the most trusted of each of the TV and printed/online media, the BBC and the Guardian, explains why I’d miss either of them very badly.

The full results of the survey can be found at

Also released this week was the 50-page report from parliament’s intelligence and security committee’s enquiry into possible Russian interference in the Brexit referendum, the one which the Prime Minister kept hidden for the best part of a year because it concluded that the British government and intelligence agencies didn’t bother to conduct any proper assessment, leading to the unavoidable conclusion that this was because the government didn’t want to know the answer in case they weren’t re-elected.

And the Labour party decided to make a six-figure payment to settle with former staff who claimed the party had failed to deal properly with accusations of anti-semitism.  This brought Labour’s former leader out of his box to condemn the decision, and left the party with financial problems.  Why can’t Labour party members grasp that their real enemy is the Conservative party, not the other wing of their own party?

Then Johnson (who looked terrible, grey and pasty) admitted they could have done things better and another of his “all done by Christmas” promises had gone out of the window because there are still “tough times ahead” and the pandemic could last into the middle of next year.

And the government confided to Chinese technology company Huawei that it was being excluded from Britain’s 5G telecoms network because Donald Trump had insisted.

Why can’t we vote for sensible people instead of politicians?

Trump agreed to be interviewed by Chris Wallace on Fox News, which normally supports him.  This turned out to be a mistake.  Amongst other blunders such as confusing slavery with racism, when Wallace asked if he’d accept the results of the election if he lost, Trump said “I’m not going to just say yes.”  He also said “We won two world wars, two world wars, beautiful world wars that were vicious and horrible”.  Beautiful?

It’s taken Trump just 3½ years to do what it took Maggie Thatcher 11 years to achieve:  to become so unpopular that many people on their own side would “rather vote for a can of tuna” than let them carry on.

What’s more worrying is that, in America, peaceful (if you don’t count shouting) Black Lives Matter protestors are being met by counter-protestors, some heavily armed, and it seems inevitable things are going to get violent before long because it doesn’t seem to have occurred to the police to keep the two protests separated.

Trump’s now sent federal troops into troubled areas and will no doubt start calling BLM protestors ‘terrorists’.  Some people now fear that Trump will intentionally escalate the situation until he decides he can declare martial law and cancel the forthcoming presidential election, joining the Russia, China, Iran and South Korea club.  The Famous Five Go Mad.

I wonder if the Constitution gives him this power; if it does, I must find the Valium.

Then, in due course, he’ll probably declare whatever’s left of the UK as the 51st state, with the British government’s sycophantic support, and I’ll have to find the Tramadol.

But, despite all this insanity, people are still being kind.

Back in 1992, two friends in Wisconsin agreed that if either of them ever won a lottery jackpot, they’d share it with the other.   Last month, Tom Cook won $22m and rang his friend Joseph Feeney to say he was just about to get $11m.  How many people would have done this?

And the climate campaigner Greta Thunberg won a $1m Gulbenkian prize for humanity and immediately promised to give it all to environmental groups.

*          Is there such a word as ‘plutogarch’?  If not, there is now.