Climate change, US impeachment, nominative determinism, where the money goes

14 February 2021

No response from Chuck Schumer yet, not even an acknowledgement. 

At least the White House replied when I was emailing the last president even though they sent an identical reply to my first two (different) emails.

However, I did get a reply from the writer of frequent letters to the local paper written by a far-right climate change denier.  A few weeks ago, his letter saying “child poverty and climate change are woke concepts, used to describe parental poverty and nice warm weather” inspired me to ‘explain’ that because the volume of ice is greater than the volume of liquid water, if all the polar sea ice melts, sea levels will fall not rise.  On Friday another of his letters was published thanking me for pointing out “the anomalous expansion of water” and disagreeing with another correspondent who’d attempted to correct one of his misapprehensions about the climate crisis.

I was disappointed (but unsurprised) by his immediate acceptance of my claim without first checking the volumes of water in polar sea ice in relation to the volume of water in all the world’s oceans while he went to some lengths to explain why somebody else wasn’t up to date with the meaning of ‘woke’ and that his own earlier claim about the adverse effects of burning hydrogen had been misunderstood.

I now feel I must write to apologise for having teased him (Oh what a tangled web we weave …)

But isn’t it fascinating to see how extremists will unquestioningly accept a claim that appears to support them, however daft it is, while they attempt to counter the arguments of scientists and other experts.

This week’s entertainment has been provided by the evidence presented to the US Senate hearing on the impeachment of The Man With A Mouth Like A Dog’s Bottom*.  The prosecution presented a detailed and illustrated case containing some frightening new footage from security cameras.  

The defence made only a token effort, knowing that Republican senators from states whose voters supported Dog’s Bottom feared they might not be re-elected if they didn’t vote to acquit him.  They produced some carefully edited and misleading videos taking historical clips of Democrats using the word “fight” out of context, slotted them between clips of the violence and produced the punchline that, if a president tells a crowd to “fight like hell”, “No thinking person could seriously believe that [this] was in any way an incitement to violence or insurrection”.  Absolutely right, old chap, how could any sensible person possibly think that.

I actually thought of a much better case for the defence which would have left enough doubt in people’s minds to make the decision much harder (for obvious reasons, I’m not going to tell anybody what it is until we know if he’s going to face criminal charges).

In the event, only 7 Republican senators had the courage of their convictions, not enough to give the required 70% support, and he was acquitted by 57 votes to 43.  Let’s hope that the weak senators’ support for Dog’s Bottom will continue to taint their reputations (see how I resisted saying ‘dog their days’) until the next elections in 2022.

(A friend suggested the vote would be fairer if it were taken my secret ballot – what a great idea!  That can be the 29th amendment.)

After the acquittal, Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, said the former president’s conduct amounted to a “disgraceful dereliction of duty” and he was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day”.  He added “President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he’s in office.  He didn’t get away with anything yet.”

And Nancy Pelosi reminded people that the mob had chanted “Hang Mike Pence” after he’d refused to support Dog’s Bottom’s claim that the election had been rigged.  “They just dismissed that,” she said. “Why? Because maybe they can’t get another job.”

The invasion of the Capitol building did produce a wonderful example of nominative determinism.  A police officer, already hailed as a hero for saying “Don’t do it” to the rioters as he led them in the wrong direction, away from the Senate door and the chamber, is now known also to have warned Republican senator Mitt Romney that the invasion was heading his way and turned him round.  His name?  Eugene Goodman.

Despite (or perhaps because of) all this, the latest newsletter from investment managers Charles Stanley has just said “Despite global economic growth entering another pandemic-driven soft patch, we are constructive on equities over the next few months.”  Apart from providing a great start if you’re playing BS Bingo, all this means is that they’re hoping markets will hold up despite all the bad news around at the moment, but you must remember that their firm’s existence depends on people giving them money to invest instead of buying gold bars, Bitcoin or tulip futures for themselves, so they’ve a vested interest in being bullish.

While 2 million people died and tens of millions lost their jobs and the rest of us just had to stay at home in 2020, the world’s 15 most active hedge fund managers (all of them men surprise surprise) made about £17 billion (that’s £17,000,000,000) between them.

There’s something wrong somewhere.

What happened to kindness, caring, being nice to each other, sharing, and helping those less fortunate than ourselves?

*          Not only is there an unmistakable physical likeness but identical material issues from both orifices.

Message for Chuck Schumer, PM’s good week, punting, NZ, Vlad the Poisoner, flammable cladding, smart technology and smuggling cactus

7 February 2021

An open message to Chuck Schumer:

“Please remind Senators when you open the trial of your last president that, while they were elected for their party membership, this is not an election and they must now put their politics aside and think for themselves as intelligent individuals, looking only at the facts and the evidence before them.”

Boris Johnson actually had a good week, claiming personal credit for having been at least partly educated in a country whose scientists found the first effective Covid-19 vaccine, and for leading a genuinely impressive roll-out of the new inoculations.  By the end of last week, more than 8.5 million people had already been vaccinated and it seems possible that one of his promises, to vaccinate 14 million people by 15 February, might be kept.  If it is, then shall flags be hung and songs be sung and church bells rung to mark the first time Johnson’s ever kept a promise.

However, he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place:  scientists (and a Conservative former health secretary) want the lockdown kept in place for as long as it takes to know we’re all safe while businesses – many of whom are Tory donors – want everything opened up again as soon as possible.

Scientists have also said opening schools in England too soon would be “a recipe for disaster” while so many new cases are still being reported each day while Johnson has just said he reckons 8 March is “the prudent date to set”.  18 Tory MPs want them opened on 22 February…

How can Johnson possibly say 8 March is “prudent” until he knows if the number of cases will have decreased enough by then to avoid a fourth spike or surge?  (I reckon the only difference between a spike and a surge is the scale of the axes on graphs of the figures.) 

Some of the more unexpected casualties of the lockdowns are guide dogs.  Their normal lives are full of concentrated brain work, guiding their visually-impaired owners round obstacles, judging whether they can safely walk under scaffolding 6’ above their heads (how do they do that?), stopping them at kerbs, judging traffic, etc.  During lockdown, they’re getting bored and there are fears that they’ll need retraining before they can work again.

But perhaps it’s like riding a bicycle or punting:  however long it is since you last did it, it comes back when you’re on the bike / punt.  Mind you, I’ve never seen a dog punting.  (There are only two things you need to learn about punting:  don’t lower the pole down, drop it and let it run through your hand and, if it gets stuck in mud and won’t come free with a jerk, let go of it and stay on the punt – the alternative is damp.)

I can’t let this week go by without a nod at Captain / Hon Colonel Sir Tom Moore who died this week of Covid-19.  When he was 99 and had been told to exercise after a hip operation, he thought he could combine this with raising some money for the NHS so he decided to walk 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday, hoping to raise £1,000.  The rest is history:  the story went viral, he raised almost £39 million, was knighted and had a number one hit song with Michael Ball.  Yet another example that ‘ordinary’ people can do extraordinary things.

At the other end of the scale are people like Vlad the Poisoner who failed to kill Alexei Navalny, Russia’s leading opposition figure, by putting novichok in his underpants.   Navalny recovered abroad but returned to Russia knowing he was like to be arrested, and so he was, for violating parole from a sentence he was given in 2014 for embezzlement, a case he claims was politically motivated after he’d accused Putin and his mates of stealing billions from the state.  Navalny has been sentenced to two years and eight months in a prison colony, another court case is pending and his supporters are demonstrating in the streets.

Anybody making book on how long Vladimir Putin will now go before killing somebody else?

As far as I know, nobody nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize but Jared Kushner (son of He Whose Name Shall No Longer Be Spoken) and his deputy, Avi Berkowitz, have been nominated for one by the lawyer who acted for the defence in last year’s impeachment trial.  The Hong Kong pro-democracy movement has also been nominated by nine lawyers from both parties.

I’ve recently come across a fascinating project called Operation X, run by Dyami Millarson, who aims to learn endangered European languages before they die out.  At the moment, he’s concentrating on the 14 living Frisian tongues …

Jacinda Ardern has been criticised for not doing enough to remove the systemic disadvantages faced by the Māori peoples and racist bias in environment, housing and child poverty.  However, she has appointed Māori Nanaia Mahuta as New Zealand’s foreign minister, the first woman to sit in the country’s parliament wearing a moko kauae, an ancient Māori tattoo form, and there are hopes that things may be starting to change for the better.

Parliament last week voted on a Labour motion to speed up the removal of flammable cladding from buildings that are still at risk from a Grenfell-type massacre and to set up an independent taskforce to get the dangerous cladding removed.  Some Conservatives supported it but most followed instructions to abstain so it was passed by 263 votes to zero.  Because it’s a recommendation and not a requirement at the moment, why did so many on the Government benches abstain?  Don’t they care about the lives still at risk?  Or are they worried about upsetting the money-grubbing developers who fitted them?

Dolly Parton was twice offered the presidential medal of freedom, the highest US civilian honour, by the last president but turned it down both times, first because her husband was ill and second because of coronavirus travel restrictions.  Last November, Barack Obama was asked why he’d honoured musicians like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor and Stevie Wonder but not Parton.

Obama looked surprised and said “That’s a mistake … that was a screw-up … I think I assumed that she’d already got one … she deserves one.”  He also promised to call Joe Biden and it seems he did because Biden’s now offered her one though she says she’s not sure if she’ll accept it in case it appears political.

Being paranoid about ‘smart’ technology, I was rather upset to get a text message from the garage in Manchester we’d bought a newer car from this time last year saying “Your car … has alerted us that it may require maintenance.  Please call us on …” 

What’s it doing?  It’s switched off and sitting in the garage.  Has it told Google what music I’ve been listening to, or the police that I tend to keep to speed limits?  Is it about to turn the television on to the Gay Rabbit channel?  (What is the Gay Rabbit channel anyway?  We’ve skimmed past it on the list but never bothered to find out what programmes it shows.)

A woman was caught by a detector dog at Auckland airport trying to smuggle almost 1,000 cacti and succulent plants into New Zealand in stockings stuck to her body.  This brought to mind some words from a Loudon Wainwright III song which I’ve only adapted slightly:

Smuggling in cactus is easy

Stuffed in your tights – it’s a breeze

Just walk as if you’re bow-legged

Don’t laugh, don’t fart and don’t sneeze.

Covid vaccinations, HS2, KGB assets, Proud Boys, verbising, nice people and a royal double bind

31 January 2021

We had our first Covid vaccinations yesterday with our second booked for 19 April, which gives us plenty of time to catch Covid with the 50% that isn’t protected.  Then, this morning I had Jerome K Jerome’s problem:  I’d read the list of possible side-effects and woke up with a headache and feeling fluey.  Bit better now though thank you for asking and a friend has just said she too had a bad reaction but it only lasted a day. 

Problems crossing the new “frictionless” and “tariff-free” borders with the EU continue to appear and Boris Johnson is busy rushing round the stables shutting doors while, in the distance, there’s a field full of equine escapees.  However, for a change, this week’s problem wasn’t of his making and came from the EU which was forced to do a U-turn over trying to control vaccines travelling to the UK through Ireland but, even though they had the grace to recognise their mistake and apologise, they’ve thrown a lighted match into a political powder barrel.

Protestors against HS2 have dug tunnels under Euston Square Gardens to delay the work.  They’ve stocked up with food and drink but my first thought was to hope they’ve got a loo down there.  Sadly, they’re apparently already running short of oxygen and rain is causing leaks of mud and collapses in the tunnel.  Great idea to draw attention to the futility of HS2 but why is there never a civil engineer around when you want one?

With the demographic changes wrought by the pandemic, some of which are certain to be permanent, it’s obvious that whole UK transport system needs to be thought again from scratch and HS2 is a white elephant.  The problem is that a vast amount of money and reputations have already been sunk into it and it would be politically difficult to cancel it and make a fresh start on a UK-wide plan.

The government seems to be full of people who will hold onto an investment whose value has plummeted and wait for its value to come back to what they paid for it.  This can feel emotionally comforting but is nonsense.  It’s generally much better to cut your losses and buy another investment with better prospects.

On Tuesday, Johnson said he was “deeply sorry” for the world-beating 100,000 deaths from Covid in the UK and, as prime minister, he took “full responsibility for everything that the government has done”.  When he asked if he now wished he’d done more sooner, he refused to answer the question and waffled “What I can tell you is that we truly did everything we could, and continue to do everything that we can, to minimise loss of life and to minimise suffering in what has been a very, very difficult stage, and a very, very difficult crisis for our country, and we will continue to do that.”

Perhaps the Tories should cut their losses.

Of course it’s not all down to the government’s feeble reaction to the pandemic because other factors, such as the increasing incidence of morbid obesity and diabetes, increased the number of deaths caused by the virus.   And the UK’s progress in developing a vaccine and sticking it into people’s arms might genuinely have been ‘world-beating’!

A former KGB major, Yuri Shvets has revealed that Donald Trump was one of hundreds of young people the KGB recruited as ‘assets’ in the 1980s.  They had identified he was very vulnerable intellectually and psychologically and was susceptible to flattery, and was too thick to realise they were using him, so they cultivated him for the next 40 years, feeding him soundbites he could use.  Tragically, the rest is history.

One of the far-right groups in America is (or was, they keep changing their names) called Proud Boys.  Why does this conjure up in my mind a crowd of very camp men in rainbow-coloured leotards dancing to Abba songs on a trailer at a LGBT+ street parade?

On Tuesday’s BBC 1200 news, a reporter said “it is worth caveating that …”, which stopped me dead.  Turning nouns into verbs, and vice versa, has become much more prevalent over the last few decades, in some cases making the original usage redundant and, ultimately, archaic. 

The first I remember was the use of ‘invite’ instead of ‘invitation’;  how many people now send out invitations?  Another is the misuse of ‘leverage’, often in a business context.  Using it as a noun (and even pronouncing it in American with a short E) is understandable but bankers and fund managers who’d never learnt the word ‘lever’ created a new verb from it and now ‘leverage’ deals.

Incidentally, wasn’t it encouraging to see the biters bit this week!  After a discussion thread started on Reddit, small investors started buying lots of shares in Gamestop using the amateur share trading platform Robinhood and the share price rocketed from $40 on 19 January to $400 within a week.

Wall Street institutions and hedge fund managers were outraged because they’d expected the price to fall so they’d sold Gamestop short* and now had to find enough cash to buy the shares they had to deliver at a much higher price. 

Wasn’t the crocheted Bernie Sanders doll that Tobey King from Kansas made and sold on the internet, raising $20,300 for Meals on Wheels America, wonderful!  After the image of Sanders huddled up in a warm coat and mittens at Joe Biden’s inauguration went viral, his own campaign has been selling sweatshirts and T-shirt with the image and has raised a further $1.8m for charities combating food insecurity.  Nice woman, nice man.

There was an advertisement on TV this week inviting applications to take part in a new series called Celebrity Home Cooking, or something like that, and my wife suggested I apply.  I said that, sadly, I couldn’t because I’m not a celebrity.  I’m not even a ‘celebrity’.  Not even in the street where we live.  And anyway, my knowledge of cooking is limited to pre-heating an oven, removing all outer packaging and putting the tray on the middle shelf for 45 minutes.

I also saw part of a programme on Wallis Simpson being manipulated by Edward VIII (previously known as David) who said he’d slit his throat if she didn’t marry him, and he abdicated, leaving the throne to his reluctant younger brother George VI (previously known as Bertie).  A classic double-bind!

*          ‘Selling short’ basically involves selling shares you haven’t got in the hope that the price will go down and you can buy them at a lower price before you have to deliver them.  It’s a form of gambling.

Nice things, including starlings, Judaism and Islam, kangaroos, generosity, misogyny and proposed new rape laws

20 December 2020

“… and call off Christmas”.  Thus spake Alan Rickman’s sheriff of Nottingham*;  and so it came to pass.

Only nice things are included this week because Friday is Christmas Day, an ancient pagan festival which probably involved a lot of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and was adopted by the Christian church as it began to convert the heathens to wine and biscuits.

Airth, a small town between Edinburgh and Stirling, has been suffering from a lot of short power cuts which baffled Scottish Power until one of their engineers discovered what caused them.  Huge murmurations of thousands of starlings had been wheeling around in those beautiful patterns before landing on power cables.  Then they’d take off again all at once, the wire they’d been sitting on bounced up, got too close to another cable, arced across the smaller gap and blew a fuse.  The cut-outs reset automatically but there’s a 10 second ‘outage’.  Isn’t it wonderful that small creatures weighing only an ounce or so can gather together and turn off millions of TVs.  There could be a lesson for people there …

An article published this week was highly critical of China’s oppression of the Uighurs, a Muslim group with their own culture and language, spread throughout Asia.  According to satellite images, leaked documents and survivor testimonies, Uighur men and women in Xinjiang are being beaten if they refuse to renounce their faith, children are being separated from their families and women are being sterilised.  China denies that the Uighurs are being confined in “vocational skills education centres” but President Xi Jinping issued a directive in 2017 that “religions in China must be Chinese in orientation” and “adapt themselves to socialist society”.

The good news is that the article was written by Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth.  That’s Judaism in practice, open-hearted and open-minded, and it shows clearly why Israel’s policies aren’t based on the precepts of Judaism.

In 1985, Donald Trump bought what is now the Mar-a-Lago club from the residential estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post and, as part of his plans to make money from it, applied for change of use in 1993 from residential to business.  The local government of Palm Beach made him sign an agreement which limited the number of days he could live there to a maximum of three non-consecutive weeks in any year.  Rumours that he’s planning to move there when he’s ejected from the White House may therefore be exaggerated.

Neighbours (largely Republican) have said the town let him get away with more frequent stays while he was president even though the additional traffic, security and noise were unpleasant but they’re now going to start enforcing his own agreement again.  They said there are plenty of other nice houses for sale in Palm Beach but, of course, he might be provided with free accommodation (and security) by the government of the United States for the foreseeable future.

Trump’s casino and hotel in Atlantic City went bust some years ago and the building is now due to be demolished.  The mayor of Atlantic City is raising money for the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City by auctioning the chance to press the button that sets off the explosives.  Imagine how much they’d raise if they could auction the opportunity to blow up the building with Trump in it.

A recent study appears to show that kangaroos can communicate with humans in ways similar to those used by dogs and horses.  When researchers gave kangaroos a box of food they couldn’t open, many of them came back to the researcher and handed the box back to ‘ask’ for a box that opens.   Our dogs just nag, but have an amazingly accurate sense of time.

This year has also seen a few of the world’s richest people sign up to the Giving Pledge Initiative, created by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates, which encourages “the world’s richest people to donate a large portion of their wealth to charitable causes”.  Notable examples include (in random order):

  • MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, has given more than $4bn in the past four months to hundreds of charities and aid organisations and has pledged to have given $6bn by the year end;
  • Bezos himself has committed $10bn to issues related to climate change;
  • Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter, has given $1bn to a fund to support pandemic relief efforts and other causes;
  • Bill and Melinda Gates have this year committed $305m relating to Covid-19 vaccines and diagnostic development in addition to other money given by their Foundation;
  • Michael Jordan, a former basketball star, will be giving $100m to Black Lives Matter and other social causes over the next decade;
  • Stormzy, the UK musician, has committed £10m to black British causes over the same period and, in August, gave £500,000 to fund educational scholarships for students from disadvantaged backgrounds;
  • Dolly Parton gave $1m in April to help the Vanderbilt University medical centre research a Covid-19 vaccine, but she has form:  she founded the Imagination Library, a charity that gives free books to children all over the world, and she set up My People, a fund that gave money to families who’d lost their homes and to firefighters and rebuilding efforts after the wildfires in Tennessee in 2016;  she also risked her career way back when to support HIV/Aids groups when it was still taboo in country music, and she has given away even more money to healthcare facilities and organizations for years.

Well, it’s a start which might encourage other billionaires to follow suit and begin to address the huge and increasing inequality of wealth distribution that has proved, and continues to prove, so devastatingly destructive. 

We’ll know we’ve turned the corner when an appearance on any ‘Rich List’ becomes a mark of shame.

In America, a bigot called Joseph Epstein has been called out for sexism following an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal, offering Jill Biden some advice.  He starts it “Madame [sic] First Lady – Mrs Biden – Jill – kiddo” and then questions her right to call herself Dr Biden because her doctorate is an “Ed D – a doctor of education” which he thinks sounds “fraudulent”.

The implication that you can call yourself a doctor only if you’re qualified to prescribe paracetamol is questionable and would rule out Stephen Hawking for starters.  What he also omitted to mention was that, while her husband was Vice-President under Barack Obama, she continued to teach English composition anonymously at Northern Virginia Community College where she was just known as Dr B and insisted that her security officers disguised themselves as students.

Epstein described himself as an adjunct (i.e. part-time) professor at Northwestern University but they issued a succinct response saying he hadn’t taught there for 20 years and removed his name from the list of “emeritus lecturers” on their website.

Pakistan’s president has approved a tough new anti-rape law which will speed up rape trials and permit the chemical castration of serial rapists.  It also requires trials to be completed within four months, it prohibits the identification of rape victims, it will create a national sex offenders’ register and officers found to be negligent in investigating rape claims could be imprisoned for up to three years.

It still needs to be approved by the government so keep your fingers crossed.

Until next week, enjoy your memories of what you used to celebrate at this time of year, and how, and don’t forget to ring your family to make sure they’re not having more fun than you are.

*   Apparently Rickman ad-libbed this during rehearsals and it got such a laugh, they kept it.

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.

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.

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.