4 April 2021
After his husband David died, the Revd broadcaster Richard Coles’ clock stopped. This wasn’t due to any magical connection, or even coincidence, it was just an old grandfather clock with an intricate winding mechanism that only David knew how to operate.
However, there have been cases when clocks stopped when somebody died, not all of them linked to the song that was popular on the radio in the 1950s but was written in 1876 by Henry Clay Work (and is, incidentally, believed to be why longcase clocks became known as ‘grandfather clocks’).
During World War II, my wife’s father commanded one of the destroyers that accompanied and protected convoys of merchant ships across the Atlantic (Nicholas Montsarrat’s 1951 novel ‘The Cruel Sea’ is supposed to portray a horribly accurate idea of what conditions were like on these convoys). When he was off watch one night and sleeping, he woke suddenly for no obvious reason and, at the end of the watch, he found his clock had stopped at the time he woke. He later heard that his brother, who was in the RAF, had been killed at that exact time on a flight over Germany.
While the link between a clockwork mechanism and a human life seems rather unlikely, I still side with Hamlet when he chided Horatio for doubting that he’d seen his father’s ghost and I have no problems with telepathy, or at least some currently inexplicable link between two different minds in different places.
Thinking of mind-expanding experiences, I noticed New York has legalised marijuana for recreational use “to end the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition” (as one American lawmaker said). Legalising dope could also, quite coincidentally of course, be worth an estimated $4bn to the state, some $350m of which would go into state funds. It would also, one hopes, reduce the need for stoners to find street dealers and perhaps drug gangleaders will lose some power as a result. It would be interesting to know how the weedmeisters’ activities have been affected in, say, Colorado where it’s been legal since 2014.
This was a week of inexplicable reports, not all published on 1 April, one of which claimed that somebody’s trying to set up a charity to raise £1m for a Brexit museum. Why do we need one? We’ve already got the London Dungeon.
Another was that Denise Coates, the CEO of Bet365 paid herself almost half a billion pounds last year in salary and dividends. Bet365 is a company that spends money trying to encourage people to get addicted to a potentially lethal habit. If other addictive and potentially lethal recreational habits such as nicotine can’t be advertised on television, why can betting?
Abigail Disney (a granddaughter) is a member of The Patriotic Millionaires, set up in 2010 by a group of the super-rich who believe that they should pay higher taxes to fund public services and welfare and to tackle growing inequality. It has since grown to an international organisation with more than 200 members who are proud to describe themselves as “traitors to their class” and share a concern about the “destabilising concentration of wealth and power”.
In Britain, six billionaires have signed up so far and have expressed their shock that, according to the Office for National Statistics, the richest 1% of Brits hold almost a quarter of the nation’s wealth while 2.5 million Londoners are classified as living in poverty. One of the members of this club is Gemma McGough who made millions from the sale of a wireless technology start-up. She thinks the top rate of tax should be as high as 75% to help contribute to the costs of the Covid-19 pandemic incurred by the government and says she’s happy to pay her share. “If you’re earning £200,000, paying a higher rate of tax on earnings above that is not going to make you poor, is it?”
(What odds do you think Bet365 would give me on Coates not being a member of the club?)
US Senator Elizabeth Warren was proposing an annual wealth tax of just 2% on people with more than $50m, which would have raised $4tn, but has now added a higher rate of 3% on those with more than $1bn, targeting people who have been made richer by the pandemic and pointing out that the top 0.1% (that’s one in every thousand people) pay a lower effective tax rate than the bottom 99% (that’s 990 in every thousand people). I wonder if it will become law …
Since the rabid chickens of Brexit are already coming home to roost, let’s have a UK referendum on higher taxes for the very wealthy so that no government or party has to take the blame.
In June, it’ll be 5 years since the UK voted to leave the EU and, on 29 March this year (!), the Government’s Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy wrote to all UK companies to say (inter alia) “the Government’s decision to delay the implementation of full border control processes by six months … will provide time to prepare for changes at the border and minimise trade disruption”. It also admits “Completing a customs declaration can take time, so do consider using a customs intermediary to deal with importing and exporting on your behalf” but I couldn’t find the bit where it says the government will provide the services of such intermediaries free as an admission of its culpability for failing to negotiate a deal four years earlier that would have allowed everyone to prepare for the change.
And two updates on other failures:
- On 7 March, I mentioned the unfortunate test flights of Elon Musk’s SpaceX prototypes. This week, Starship SN11 followed the precedent set by the previous three launches when it “experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly” or, in English, it exploded in mid-air. Musk still anticipates launching the Dragon capsule with people on board in the autumn.
- You may also remember that, in mid-2019, the investment fund manager Neil Woodford’s luck ran out and more than 300,000 investors in his funds lost most of their money while he kept the £63m he’d trousered as he ran the funds into the ground. Well, he’s trying to crawl back into the market, announcing last month that he was planning to set up a new business based in Jersey. What a pity he hadn’t mentioned this to Jersey’s financial regulator who seemed rather less than enthusiastic about the idea.
The good news is that some 2017 research by Professor Shanna Swan of the Mount Sinai school of medicine in New York City showed that, as a result of chemicals used in plastics affecting sex hormones, the average sperm count of an Alt-Right male has more than halved in the previous 40 years, their dangly bits have shrunk, Alt-Right females libidos have decreased and their risk of premature ovarian failure, miscarriage and premature birth have increased in the same period.
Actually of course, as you will have guessed, Swan’s findings applied to all western men and women, not just Alt-Right people, but let’s look on the bright side.