US election threats, Labour acts, starving children, magic and ignorance

1 November 2020

America’s election takes place this week though the results – and their aftermath – may not be known for some time.  I daren’t even hope …

Encouraged by Donald Trump’s urging his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully”, heavily armed conservative groups, some wearing ‘security’ uniforms, have been standing outside polling stations, presumably with the intention of intimidating the wrong sorts of voters. Jocelyn Benson, the Michigan secretary of state, banned guns within 100’ of polling stations but was over-ruled by a state court judge and the result of an appeal is awaited.

The gangsters’ explanation is that they have to prepare for left-wing groups who might try to incite violence. Yes, really! They expect us to believe this – how thick are they? Let’s hope there are at least two unarmed ‘left-wingers’ and/or journalists with cameras watching every such group. If I were there, I’d wait outside my nearest polling station and offer to accompany anybody who looked nervous as far in as the authorities (not the thickos) allowed me to.

Islamic State eat your heart out – the most dangerous terrorist threats to the United States now come from extremist white supremacist groups.

Last week, Trump walked out of an interview with CBS (who have released the footage). After a question about whether his use of social media and name-calling was “turning people off”, the president brought the recording to an end and criticised Lesley Stahl, the interviewer, for raising “a lot of subjects that were inappropriately brought up.”

Stahl got some stick for not having asked about his finances, separating immigrant children from their families and how many people on his staff had subsequently been subject to criminal charges but maybe she was going to ask them in the second half of the interview.

Mary Trump, who is a psychologist, has described her uncle as “a terrified little boy” and has said the “fear he’s feeling now has got to be unhinging him”.

In the UK, the Equality & Human Rights Commission has just issued a report damning the Labour Party for anti-semitism and harrassment. Sir Keir Starmer has apologised and promised to act swiftly on all the report’s conclusions. Let’s hope he clarifies the difference between anti-semitism and anti-zionism.

At least the shadow cabinet reacted fast and suspended Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party after he had claimed that the anti-semitism problem was “dramatically overstated for political reasons” or, in other words, he knew it existed but didn’t think it was that important.

Nobody yet knows if this is fair but it seems reasonable for him to accept responsibility for not having dealt with the problem himself while he was Labour’s leader.  Pity really – he was a very good constituency MP for the cheaper end of Islington, but he was never a party leader.

Boris Johnson was last seen jumping up and down on the sofa shouting “Yessss!  No more coronavirus, no more Brexit, no more starving children, no more U-turns, it’s all about Labour self-destructing from now on so let’s hide the bad news and start the lockdown I should have put in place a month ago and nobody will even notice.”

He clearly hasn’t heard yet that Marcus Rashford’s petition now has more than a million signatures while the Treasury says Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, never asked for more money to buy school meals over half-term and the chancellor is irritated that people are blaming him.  Meanwhile, Michael Gove seems to be the only person who’s realised the Brexit still needs some attention but has said that ‘no deal’ will be better for the UK;  with his reputation for intelligence, integrity and honesty, who could possibly doubt him.

And so, after last week’s venture into conjuring, here are some thoughts about ‘real’ magic for light relief, starting with the simplest definition of ‘magic’ I can think of, which is something that doesn’t fit in with what we’ve discovered so far.

At the ‘macro’ end of the scale, scientists know much less about the universe than they theorise about it.  For example, they think only about 5% of the universe is made up of (unscientific term coming up) ‘stuff’ so they introduce impressive-sounding descriptions like ‘dark matter’ (which they reckon accounts for 27% of the universe) and dark energy (the other 68%) to account for the rest of it, but nobody actually knows what they are or how they work or whether they’re just a footprint from the sixth dimension which we, limited to three spatial dimensions, cannot possibly be aware of.

At the other end of the scale, we don’t even know how our brains work or how insect hives and nests are ‘managed’ or how to cure the common cold or why women will leave lavatory seats down*.

Our ignorance of so much is wholly at odds with a belief that we know a lot about everything.  If we scale the existence of the universe down to a single year, all our scientific ‘knowledge’ has been gained in the last zillionth of a second before midnight.  Plus the universe is unimaginably vast and we can’t even picture the tiny ‘big’ things on earth.  For example, we can’t even imagine the scale of Mount Tambura’s eruption in 1815 which blasted 12-24 cubic miles** (different estimates from different volcanologists) of gases, dust and rock into the atmosphere.

Or think of our bodies.  The medical profession is good at repairing physical damage like broken bones and even internal organs but they’re not as good at curing the more aggressive illnesses, or even understanding how they work, and they’re only in the very earliest stages of understanding neurological and mental health problems that are thought to originate in the brain.  (Suppose we really do have souls or spirits:  could they actually originate there?)  So we fiddle around and discover that some things work, like pills or electronic implants or talking therapies or ‘complementary’ treatments or placebos.

I’ve mentioned healing before, and that I believe, despite the absence of any ‘scientific’ explanation, everybody has the power to do it if they can stay open-minded enough to accept the possibility. Too many people say it’s magic and therefore imaginary and can’t possibly work.

My view is if it works, even just for some, don’t knock it.

Surely what humans have learnt so far is equivalent to someone in Japan setting off to swim (downhill) across the Pacific to California – we’re just wading through the surf and there’s a long way still to go.  So I’m unrepentant about believing in magic.

If I were asked what era I would like to have lived in, I’d say the 23rd century so I could see how far the swimmer had got in 200 years; no further into the future because I wouldn’t understand enough – imagine somebody from 1820 trying to come to terms with electric lights, cars, aeroplanes, penicillin, heart transplants, telephones, computers, gay marriage, the disappearance of ‘street life’ and the support it offered, the unavailability of legal cocaine, BLM, and Donald Trump.

And I’ve just learnt that the Regent Theatre in Ontario is selling $25 tickets for a raffle that will allow the winner to become the theatre’s first official ghost, but only after they’re dead and can’t sue. 

* Yes, yes, I know, it’s so men can sit down to use it, much more thoughtful than men leaving it up.

** 20 cubic miles looks like a 20-mile square piece of London from Edgware or Chingford in the north to Kingston or Bromley in the south and from Wembley or Richmond in the west to Ilford or Woolwich in the east, raised 20 miles up into the air – that’s 3½ times the height of Everest. You couldn’t even breathe up there, let alone find an espresso.

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