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.

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