My local cinema is following Peter Rabbit with Peter Rabbit 2.
Peter "wisecracks like Bugs Bunny," says a review in The NY Times. I think that's a comment on one of the films, not the original story.
Original. Now there's a word.
Beatrix Potter followed Peter Rabbit with Squirrel Nutkin, Benjamin Bunny and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle.
My local cinema is following Peter Rabbit with Peter Rabbit 2.
Peter "wisecracks like Bugs Bunny," says a review in The NY Times. I think that's a comment on one of the films, not the original story.
Original. Now there's a word.
This is what the breakdown of law and order feels like.
Man attacks woman. Woman reports crime. System fails to do anything - but does want details of the woman's sexual history.
We legislate for equality; we have feminism; there's #MeToo among other lessons of history.
The breakdown of law and order isn't a sudden riot, any more than a global pandemic is suddenly zombies on the streets.
Seems to me that no matter what we do, we can't stop the system failing. The legal system isn't capable of handling rape cases effectively, even in today's climate of opinion. The overall system isn't saving us from anything.
Re: the pandemic. We've switched to the word "variant" from "mutation" because it's softer. We don't want to offend India, so it's the "Delta" variant we're facing now.
Re: climate change. "The G7 nations have agreed to step up action on climate change" (BBC News, 4 days ago), thereby adding an "agreement" to all the "targets" of - wait, how long ago?
Re: Rape. In two years, some courts in England and Wales will be allowed to switch on the evidence-recording equipment that all courts already have installed.
Oh, and courts will be encouraged to focus on the suspect's behaviour rather than the victim's. "Ah, but she was wearing a short skirt" will cease to be the issue; "He's been attacking women for years" will matter more. I can remember that being an issue a century ago.
What happens next? My guess is, more of the same but with added media releases to say that lessons have been learned. Then more of the same.
Then, eventually, not the collapse of the system but the decline into irrelevance of the system. They're all useless. We have to look after ourselves.
Any worthwhile social movement has to start from the understanding that people can't be led. Nor consistently inspired. Neither conviction nor idealism can be shared from one head to the next, let alone from one head to a crowd.
You can lead some of the people to the barricades, for some of their time. But you can't keep them there, nor direct where they go next. Leaders fall; regimes collapse; bills fall due; milk boils over; babies cry; dogs bark; caravans move on; all the while, ideals are eroded by the day-to-day pragmatism of living.
Abstract agreements are no basis for action. Yes, things "should" be different, and more importantly, could be different. But there is no automatic right to have them made different, nor to impose difference.
There is no mind so closed as a mind that believes itself open. And liberal. And benign.
Here are the first two paragraphs of the media release at
announcing the G7 Summit in Cornwall this year.
[Spoiler: We are indulging my inner grumpy old so-and-so today. By reading this you agree to all manner of terms & conditions. In return, you have my permission to buy yourself a cookie or small bar of chocolate later and eat it in defiance of your diet.
“Prime Ministers and Presidents from the world’s leading democracies will come together in Cornwall in June to address shared challenges, from beating coronavirus and tackling climate change, to ensuring that people everywhere can benefit from open trade, technological change and scientific discovery.”
Isn’t that great? Doesn’t that make you feel good? They’re coming to Cornwall to– Oh. Sorry. Here’s the second paragraph.
“The Prime Minister will use the first in-person G7 summit in almost two years to ask leaders to seize the opportunity to build back better from coronavirus, uniting to make the future fairer, greener and more prosperous.”
Won’t that be great? He’s going to stand up and ask them to seize the opportunity.
And they’re going to react like the idea had never occurred to them, reaching out with both hands – imagine them all pushing back from the conference table, raising their arms, swiping at the air as though they’ve been asked to do something real.
I like that bit from the first paragraph. They’re coming together “to address shared challenges, from beating coronavirus and tackling climate change…”
Such feelgood rhetoric. Unfair, really, to point out that they’re not coming together to beat coronavirus, nor indeed to tackle climate change.
But if “addressing” can do even a fraction of the good of “beating” or “tackling” – they’ll address. No problem.
Why am I reacting so strongly to a piece of flannel about an over-promoted talkfest of a photo-op between elderly politicians who - most of them - can’t organise a vaccine roll-out in a single market?
I don’t know, actually.
Because somehow it encapsulates the modern condition? Yes, perhaps that.
What is the modern condition? Oh, thank you for asking.
We talk so well because we don’t do. We talk so well because we know we don’t do. We shy away from the specific – tackling climate change – and console ourselves with the abstract – addressing the challenge. Faced with difficulty, or impossibility, we retreat into words.
We’ve honed the skill of talking to the point where it gives us the same feeling as if we’d taken action. We can almost convince ourselves that we’re tackling climate change when in fact what we’re doing – sorry, what we’re announcing, not doing, is that we’ve agreed to set targets for tackling climate change.
Which isn’t the same as doing anything. Of course. The action evaporates into the words. We cheer the target-setting and meet the failure to keep to those targets without surprise.
For another example. I pick up on this flower-arrangement of words from the opening paragraph: “...to ensuring that people everywhere can benefit...”
They’re coming to Cornwall to “ensure” that people “can”. Isn’t that state-of-the-art content-free speech?
They’re not “doing”; they’re “ensuring”. And they’re not ensuring that people “will” benefit; they’re ensuring that people “can” benefit.
I “can” benefit from a lot of things. Whether I “will” benefit from them depends on whether anybody gets their act together and does the work needed to provide them. No, wait. I “can” benefit. I’m already perfectly capable of benefiting. Oh, never mind.
At least the closing communique will tell us that they’ve all agreed to seize the opportunity. I’m hoping for at least a moment’s emotional boost from the rousing verbiage of the closing communique. I bet the main points of that have already been drafted.
I’m also hoping for a photo-op on the beach, Boris and his chums in front of a sandcastle, ideally, a good, big sandcastle, as well as the whole inevitable salad of further-back advertising hoardings for the conference centre and the tourist board.
Ask not what the politicians have agreed.
Ask instead who built the sandcastle.
Or place your faith in the younger generation and go look for a child with a spade.
Struck me just now that "surveillance capitalism" operates by obsessing over the second-best answer to an obvious question.
"What do you people want?"
Imagine a restaurant which studied Big Data to work out what its customers wanted.
None of that old-fashioned inefficient handing out menus and taking down orders. These people are all meeting for lunch. They all drank coffee and 68% ate cornflakes last time they sat down to eat. Scrap the menu. Bring out coffee and cornflakes.
Recently, I bought a chair from a certain well-known online store. If I had bought every chair I've been offered, by email, since buying the chair I wanted - I would have enough now to fill an auditorium.
Surveillance capitalism fails at answering the obvious question. What do I want? I have a chair. It's a chair that I might use to sit down and eat.
What else do you think I might need in my dining space?
"I know! Another chair!" says the algorithm.
Shall I tell you about Umair Haque?
He’s a writer on Medium. If you [search-engine] his name, you’ll find that he’s a lot else besides. Go to his website, which is hosted on Medium, and read My Story. All of it – or more exactly, enough of it to understand why he uses the word “vampire” to describe himself. He’s interesting.
Umair Haque writes a lot of articles about a lot of issues, and he always puts a picture at the top before he publishes them. Lately, he’s got onto the subject of Britain (sic), and the picture he put at the top showed that young couple who gave an interview to Oprah Winfrey the other day.
Long-ish piece about Britain, but the title gives you the gist of it. How Britain Became the Dumbest Society in the World. And the sub-title. Britain is Becoming the World’s Newest Failed State.
Not Britain Made a Mistake or Britain Got It Wrong but how we dropped straight to the bottom of the list – we’re number 195 in the rankings for stupidity (or would be, if we could count that high). And we’re about to fail completely. There are 193 member-states of the United Nations; soon there will be 192.
[Palestine and the Holy See are non-member observer states, in case you’re not-British enough to have noticed the 195/193 discrepancy – and there are other states to mention, but this is complicated enough already.]
Anyway – Umair’s article (8-minute read, says Medium) paints a gloriously sunny picture of Britain ten-plus years ago – the best healthcare in the world, the finest public broadcaster, part of “the world’s most successful political union” (he means the EU), and overall, back then Britain “was a gentle, intelligent, warm, friendly, and wealthy society.”
Mr Haque, if you’re reading this, pick up a copy of Andrew Rawnsley’s The End of the Party. It describes the period you’re eulogising. Oh, and since you ruin the effect slightly by revealing that you got the “failed state” line from a newspaper report of a Gordon Brown soundbite – Rawnsley’s book also covers Gordon Brown’s time as Prime Minister.
Around 4 minutes into Umair’s article, well after the Gordon Brown bit, Umair asks and answers the question “What had gentle Europeans ever done to hurt Britain? Nothing at all.” Writing about Brexit at that point – taking a broadly Remain stance with the twist that we were being nasty to the “gentle Europeans” by blaming them for our problems.
Let’s not get into Brexit. I picked up on that “ever”. What had the Europeans “ever” done to nasty old Britain? Went to the comments, and sure enough, somebody had written a reply starting with “The Roman invasion…” right through to WW2. There were two replies to that reply. One said “Dream on, don’t wake up,” and the other, “You sound like a clown with your comments.”
Mr Haque, have you ever seen the 2006 film Idiocracy? Set mostly 500 years in the future, in about – pardon my maths – 2021.
I suppose if you’re going to get an audience these days you have to respond to the latest celebrity interview and take a side in whatever big-time culture war it represents.
And I suppose modern etiquette requires that I either condemn Umair Haque absolutely or praise him to the skies. How Umair Haque Became the Dumbest/Best Writer in the World, perhaps. But I can’t quite do that. He’s readable, interesting, and despite not knowing him, I kind of like the guy.
Umair Haque has moved his writing from his website as linked above, to Eudaimonia & Co., which you’ll also find on Medium. Here, in fact.
I suggest you go there now. After his non-quite-convincing Gordon Brown-based article about Britain becoming dumb, Umair Haque staged a dramatic return to form yesterday with How My People Became the World’s Greatest Idiots.
Not a celebrity nor a has-been politician in sight. And like the world – all the better for it.
Chilly morning after a run of Summer days come early. Buds on the roses, crocuses, but cold, definitely cold. The sun off to the right, describing a partial arc of the sky, from where I am facing East. Can't remember whether it's the sun, or the moon, or something else, but it's in Virgo according to the subject-line I read, which makes this a time of focus (okay, I opened the email).
Space-station Mir is in Virgo, perhaps. Now I'm remembering a conversation recently with a friend. "That was serendipity," I said, to whatever fortunate confluence of events had befallen her. "If I believed in all that, I'd agree with you," she replied, with a sigh that was audible even on Gmail.
So we had a conversation about the unimportance of belief. Does it matter whether it's chance, or the work of some benign Something? If it's chance - well, okay, we're just oddly evolved animals making a mess of life on a ball of rock, etc., hurtling through a void. If There Is Something reading this over my/your shoulder - they'd let us know if we're supposed to say thank-you.
Either way, I say: celebrate the serendipities, even if they are just chance. I think - and if you've come this far I'll assume you want to know what I think - that we're supposed to work with what we do/don't believe - because there's a self-assessment/self-nurture/self-reassurance process in there that matters.
There's nothing. Deal with it. There's something. Sit up straight. Some version of that is the monologue/dialogue you have with yourself.
The real question is - what does it tell you about yourself?
Spend some time looking at climate change. Charts, graphs, statistics, weather reports, news stories, icebergs breaking free, badly burned koala bears...
Then ask yourself, "What would Gaia do?"
What would the "earth organism", the combined total of everything living and life-supporting on the planet, close relative of Mother Nature, do about climate change?
Cull the invasive species? I wonder.
This virus could have been designed for us. It creeps up, never quite serious enough for us to recognise the threat, and first it takes out the older and more vulnerable. Leaving what a nature show would call a healthy breeding stock.
And/or install, somewhere deep in the primitive part of the brain, an instinct towards self-destruction? I wonder.
(1) We get a vaccine. Start vaccinating. Some weeks later, the scientists think to tell us - or the media finally get round to reporting their message - that after vaccination, we can still infect people.
(2) We get a vaccine. Two doses, to be given three weeks apart. We decide to give them eleven weeks apart. That way, we can give lots more first doses, and future supply can take care of the second doses. Roughly ten weeks into the first-dose phase, the company supplying the vaccine announces production delays.
Those delays, says a politician, are "unacceptable". Which is great, because those second doses have to be given within twelve weeks of the first dose. Or the vaccine expires. Becomes ineffective. Doesn't protect us.
I'm sorry to be such a pessimist, but I can't dislodge this uneasy feeling that we're going to leave behind for future generations a cleaner, greener, less crowded world.
It's not the fake news.
It's not the lies.
Nor is it that social-media thing whereby you exclude everybody who might disagree with you.
It's the self-belief.
The answer to
"Here is the incontrovertible evidence that proves you wrong."
"I know what I believe."
But that's understandable.
In our culture, the rebel always beats the empire.
We're disposed to take on causes.
The emperor doesn't have much of a dress sense, and the answer to the question "The 'empire' would do that, wouldn't they?" is not clear-cut.
Sooner or later, we all learn how to handle being mistaken. And occasionally just flat-out embarrassingly wrong.
We all experience that awful moment - you storm out, slam the door ... and realise that sooner or later, you're going to have to un-storm your way back in again.
Concede defeat, in other words. It's part of growing up.
The wisdom, at those moments, is to be found in the faces of the other people in the room, the parents let's say, who carry on as though nothing has happened, not looking at you, not reacting, letting the situation stabilise.
You gather up your toys and climb back into your pram. Life goes on.
In the 1984 film Red Dawn, Soviet paratroopers land on the football field of a high school in Colorado.
In the 2012 remake, they're North Koreans.
Either way, this local event represents a nationwide security failure: the baddies have invaded the US mainland. A crack team of high-school kids fades into the mountain country around the school to form The Resistance.
In time, the kids' immediate grasp of bomb-making and other sabotage techniques; their commitment to arguing face-to-face about their relationship issues; their adherence to American Values and clean laundry are so effective that the nasty Russians roll over to have their tummies tickled.
Or something like that. The 1984 Red Dawn runs for 114 minutes.
In the 2024 film Capitol, a group of middle-aged American citizens in fancy dress invade the seat of democracy in the USA. Shots are fired; there are deaths; the invaders describe their action as a "coup" and then split up either to go home or do some sight-seeing around Washington.
This is a security failure, etc., but they're rounded up very quickly by the FBI working from social-media and news footage. They go to jail.
It's a very short film.
The 1984 Red Dawn's actually okay. There are whole stretches (from memory) in which it's possible to suspend disbelief.
Capitol? Nah, ridiculous. In the real world they'd have a plan, at least. Wouldn't they?
Fondly remembering Boaty McBoatface today. No particular reason.
In 2016, shortly before the Brexit referendum, the UK's NERC (National Environment Research Council) "invited the internet" (says the internet) to suggest a name for its new ship.
The internet - or as we might say, the people - suggested Boaty McBoatface. The NERC - or as we might say, the establishment - thought it knew better. The ship ended up being named after a popular relevision presenter who had been knighted (no, not that one).
The name Boaty McBoatface went to a small robot submarine.
Then the UK government suggested that we all vote to stay in the European Union, and just over half of the, ah, people's vote went to leaving the European Union.
Meanwhile, in the USA, preparations continued for the 2016 Presidential Election.
There was a clue in there somewhere. To something.
Here's a conceptual framework for thinking about life on other planets.
The universe is in its infancy.
Everything started - including life - with the alleged "Big Bang", and if you think about the number of zeroes you could stick on the end of time itself, that was only yesterday. The rubble is still flying out from the explosion.
Today's universe is not the end-product. It's the starter kit, barely out of its box. It's not as though the Big Bangk was then and this is now. Life has hardly moved from its starting point - yet.
We know that microscopic "tardigrades" and other tiny wriggly things can survive - and reproduce - in space. Scientists took tardigrades to the International Space Station a few years back, and watched them. There are photographs. And measurements. Those were healthy tardigrades, after as well as before.
Now. We know that if you ask a space agency, they'll tell you that the cleanliness of their spaceships is among their highest priorities. We also know that in today-speak, that's pretty much the same as saying: yeah, the cleaners may miss a bit occasionally, but they've told us it won't happen again.
I'd bet that there are at least a few tardigrade couples now heading off to a new life on Mars or beyond, courtesy of the various Rovers and Exployers and Voyagers that we've sent out lately, and I'd also bet that if we came back to this whole alien-life question in a few millennia, some evolved form of tardigrade would pick up the phone.
What you said then would depend on how well you spoke cockroach, I guess, but never mind - you've made the connection. [In next week's episode, gravity finally starts to work on the universe, and after a brief slack tide, the rubble all starts flying in again. What a Bang that'll make.]
We're three days out from the dawning of the age of the post-Brexit deal. My phone tells me that three days from now, a group of Senators will make a last-ditch attempt to invalidate the US election.
The UK government has decreed that second doses of the Covid vaccine won't be given on schedule. Daily infection rates in the UK are above 50,000.
I think to myself: this can't be the pinnacle of human civilisation. Surely?
Then I think to myself: let's hope we have time to launch some really dirty spaceships before the end.
Many, many years ago, I think it came out in 1996, I was commissioned by Bloomsbury Publishing to write a book on working aboad. Big advance by my then-standards. Tight deadline. I roughed out a contents page and got on with it.
Working abroad (from the UK) was a big thing back then. Get a high salary for doing a skilled job in an unhospitable location, combine that with some careful tax planning (oh, my days of scrutinising IR20 for that chapter) and you could end up coming home to ... well, the same life as before, but now with a fat offshore savings account.
And you'd need a repatriation briefing to prepare you for - enough! That was then.
One of my early moves was to get hold of the competition. There must have been, oh, ten books on the market with Working Abroad in the title. I piled them up on my desk, and spent a morning going through them for anything that I might need to add to my contents page.
There were, I realised as I skim-read them, nine synoptic Working Abroads and one ur-text original Working Abroad from which all the others had taken (and lightly paraphrased) the difficult bits (and yeah, okay, I was now comparing those paraphrases for my own Working Abroad).
The original Working Abroad, the best of them, was written by my occasional lunch companion (and, I would like to think, friend) the late Godfrey Golzen. I remember Godfrey fondly. I've just looked him up, and for the first time read his obituary. Cheers, Godfrey. Happy times. Ridiculous, funny, happy times.
I remembered the synoptic Working Abroads when I heard this morning that the Brexit deal - sorry, they're calling it the post-Brexit deal - is actually a copy-and-paste job, mandating the use of archaic browsers and ancient (broken) encryption software. Slabs of old legalese pasted in to bulk the thing out.
Not sure why, but I felt vindicated. Like ... I don't know, like I'd feel if I'd been arguing with atheists and a fully fledged archangel, wings and all, had just joined us at our table. Like I'd been complaining about government, and government had just gone and ... yeah.
Or like I'd, um, recently published a novel purporting to be "an account of the mutated-virus outbreaks of the early 2020s" and now every news broadcast was full of mutated-virus outbreaks. Or have I mentioned that already? Sorry. Marketing, y'know. Supposed to do it all the time these days.
Like that, anyway. How many of our legislators, the people who have just voted this deal into law, commented that it's just the same slabs of text as usual, with a little extra deal-stuff scribbled on the front page? I guess they all noticed, right? And said nothing.
Impressively fat, though, this deal? 1,200-plus pages on who gets to fish where? It would be impossible to spin out that many words of real argument on any subject, however stubbornly the two sides disagreed for the cameras right up to the last minute. So the paste-in was worth it.
I wish I'd had copy-and-paste for my Working Abroad. No need for any original research at all.
Although, here in the real world, where I did actually have to research and write that book, I'm still getting PLR (Public Lending Right) payments for it. Once a year, into the tax return.
So I must have done something right.
Perhaps every major piece of legislation since copy-and-paste was invented - or even before that - perhaps every single law ever enacted contains long stretches of identical text in which you'll find, I don't know, references to ministers using official stage-coaches on official business only.
And just imagine - maybe the entire "rules-based international order" draws its legitimacy from a copied-and-pasted rule stipulating that, oh, I don't know, male pupils at state schools should only wear shorts with their school uniforms in the official Summer months.
What does that say about our civilisation?
Yeah, but would you want to make it up?
Dust blows through the halls and corridors of this website. There's a drift of fallen leaves and other light debris settled against the entrance, and the key sticks in the lock. I have to shove because the door itself has swollen within its frame.
...and so on, et cetera. Been otherwise busy these past few weeks. Lately, though, I've been watching the weather - which is currently grey, wet, like a slumped-down cloud but wetter, the rain billowing - and thinking deep thoughts of the kind that are best thought from an armchair - yes - in front of a log fire - check, although they're fake logs made out of sawdust - on just such a day as this.
The trade-deal paperwork is "over 1,200 pages long" and was published on Boxing Day. Parliament has until the end of the week to scrutinise it, vote on it, make it law.
All deals with the EU are closed at the last minute, but this one? 1,200 pages not agreed until Christmas Eve? I wonder how much of the "nearly there" rhetoric was straightforward political theatre.
Boris delivered hie eulogy to the deal without once using the word "fish". Or the word "fishing". After months of burbling along about sovereignty and what it means for our coastal waters. The omission is more telling than anything in the 1,200 pages, I suspect.
Mutated strains of the virus are being found across the world. My book, Back to Nature: A Journal of the Plague Years, is "an account of the mutated-virus outbreaks of the early 2020s". But I'm not here to talk about that. Buy it from that link if you're having a Patreon moment.
Today's combination of politics, technology and communal media gives us the illusion of a permanent status quo: we're still talking about getting "back to normal"; the films have all been made at least once before; there's no debate that doesn't rapidly polarise and thus shut itself down.
Oh, and we're still talking excitedly about AI despite (for example) the exam-grading fiasco of this last Summer. As if AI is a thing to be cheered regardless of the evidence. Ditto the trade deal: we've avoided a No Deal Brexit so we're all madly thrilled.
And yet, as we used to say to each other before the rotten edifice of the present took us in its Soviet Union-like grip, change is the only constant.
Here it comes...
Recent study suggested that there's a "nocebo" effect with statins. Drugs for cholesterol.
People who believe they're going to get harmed by statins, get harmed.
This by contrast with the "placebo" effect, whereby you anoint your little dough-ball with a few drops of aromatherapy, and it does you the world of good.
I was thinking about all these vaccines. What if people don't want them?
Not everybody - just enough to lift compulsory vaccination up the news agenda.
Call me paranoid, but I think I detect the beginnings of a soft campaign to disdain any idea that vaccines could ever be harmful - and I also think I'm old enough to have heard that before.
And if people are genuinely uneasy about vaccines, believing them to be potentially harmful, what then?
Talk about Christmas. Somebody on television saying they'd break the rules to get their family of seven together for the celebration. Then apologising.
We're still talking about rules.
Yes, I suppose I drive on the left because that's the rule - no, wait. There's another reason. Duh.
I get the idea that lockdowns "buy time" for scientists to work round the clock, etc., to find a vaccine, and I can work out why certain politicians - blah, blah, blah. I really need to snap out of this.
There was rain earlier. Now the sky's got that marbled look that suggests it could go either way. Fewer leaves on the big tree; they're fluttering in the wind. Cold day.
We're used to the virus now. We know what to do.
No, we don't need government inspectors turning up on Christmas Day to count the places laid at the table.
Mind you, New Year.
Dark-haired government inspector turning up just after midnight with a lump of coal in one hand and a bottle of, hmmm, Lagavulin in the other...
Maybe there is a role for government after all.
Maybe the value of social media is that it keeps the Russians and Iranians busy.
I remember back when the DDR fell, the Stasi were revealed to have recruited practically everybody as informers. The way to get out of any arrest-type situation was to agree to be an informer.
So maybe the performance metric applied by Stasi management was: number of informers recruited this week. That would be an easy number to report, and an easy number to approve, especially with the weekend coming up. The words "but none of them have told us anything" were probably never spoken out loud by anybody at any level.
Imagine the head office of a "hostile state actor", I think that's the phrase, come election time in the USA.
So many fake Facebook accounts created; so many fake tweets tweeted. These are impressive numbers! Well done!
Quora sends me so many questions to answer about Brexit (no, I don't bother) that they must have latched on there as well. Most of the questions I get are asked anonymously, although I get quite a few from Oleg [surname redacted]. A question from Oleg that managed to combine Cambridge Analytica, Birthday Honours, Coronavirus and the class system got me thinking about this.
Somewhere out there beyond the Urals, or perhaps in a nondescript building tucked away in the forests around Moscow, a young hacker is being congratulated on how many questions he's managed to feed to me on Quora. Up there in a converted shelter in the mountains around Tehran (good wifi), another youngster is receiving a merit award for Most Facebook Accounts Created In One Week.
Never mind that all those accounts have been closed; never mind that I never answer. Those numbers look great!
Never mind either that social media doesn't win elections. Back in 2019, the UK election, social media spent a lot of its time telling me that Jeremy Corbyn would save the nation. Now, it's on about the all-encompassing badness of [candidate's name redacted; this isn't about that].
But ... the electorate goes its own way. Yes, there's a lot of fuss about clandestine attempts to influence elections. Yes, I'm sure every enemy agent has a go. But we're so focused on the technology that we miss the essential point: everybody does it but it doesn't work.
Yes, I know that [insert surprise result here]. But are you telling me that demographic voted en masse for that candidate on the basis of what social media told it?
Yes, okay, one day it is going to come out that Covid-19 was developed for Chinese Intelligence by the Trilateral Commission working out of a top-secret laboratory north of London funded by the British Aristocracy, and okay, the truth is sometimes What The Government Doesn't Want You To Know (to take a line from the playbook). But - come on. Sinister foreigners? Really?
Got it! The Overton Window. That's the term I was trying to remember.
The Overton Window is "the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time". Thanks, Wikipedia.
We might guess that, say, policies emphasising human rights fall within today's Overton Window, while policies designed to exclude on grounds of discrimination, race, gender, et cetera, fall outside it.
The Overton Window shifts over time. It expands, contracts, moves left, moves right, across a spectrum ranging towards more freedom at one extreme and less freedom at the other. More relaxed at one extreme and more uptight at the other. More intolerant, tolerant. Nice, nasty.
You get the idea.
Why has the UK government just introduced a three-tier restriction system? Because the idea of a national lock-down has moved outside today's Overton Window for anti-Covid policies.
And actually, because none of our political leaders seem able to think of anything else. While the government's pushing a three-tier restriction system, the opposition is calling for a circuit-breaker.
By now, I'd guess, the mainstream population has worked out that lock-downs are just a way of kicking the proverbial can down the road.
So our politicians are arguing about different ways of using foot-power to convey the cylindrical metal container further along the street.
This isn't leadership. Seems to me that leadership would be acknowledging what the mainstream population is beginning to understand - that we're stuck with this virus for the foreseeable future.
Which would mean finding ways to survive, prosper, socialise, support each other, et cetera, with the virus ever-present in the background. Not just finding euphemisms for: "Stay indoors until the clock turns back to 2019."
I suspect that even the government's assertion of control over the situation is moving outside the Overton Window. Nobody wants to hear that we're going to "beat" the virus, or indeed that we're going to fight it on the beaches, et cetera.
Because we're not.
There may be a vaccine, and it may eradicate the virus as effectively as we've eradicated flu or, say, the common cold. There may be enough doses for everybody to get one without argument.
Seems to me we've got to the point where we're crazy to argue about lockdowns being harsh or not-so-harsh. Long-term or just a couple of weeks.
What's killing us is that we live in a world where low-paid workers can't afford time off just because they're infected with a life-threatening virus.
"I know I'm contagious, but I can't afford to self-isolate."
One of the flaws in test'n'trace is that the vulnerable-to-infection, soon-to-be-contagious people can't afford to be found by the test.
They walk among us, selling us things.
Maybe we should care for them?
Would that be a more effective strategy than depriving them of their livelihoods?
Irrelevant footnote. The film Deep Impact (1998) surfaced on Freeview the other night. I know this because I switched on just in time to catch [spoiler] the briefing scene, in which US President Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman) announces, first, that the world is facing an "extinction-level event", an ELE, and secondly, that the world's governments, together, have worked out a way to deal with it.
Test and trace, eh?
You text positive today, and all your contacts are traced tomorrow. They're warned to stay inside. They do that.
So simple. The virus will be eradicated in three tomorrows.
Simple like those architect's drawings and models, all clean and airy and white-spaced with tiny trees and neatly sharp-pencilled-in figures, of public building projects that turn into urban nightmares.
Or those car ads in which the empty roads curve through scenic hills under blue skies, to music that doesn't sound anything like a traffic jam.
Maybe planning "to beat" coronavirus should take into account the human element.
Oh, hey, I get it. A "circuit-breaker" is a slightly clever-sounding, slightly technical-sounding lock-down with a slightly cool name. "Circuit-breaker" - sounds like the tech people are onto something, doesn't it?
There's talk of a "circuit-breaker" being imposed in Scotland and probably south of the border as well.
Key feature of a "circuit-breaker" is the promise that the lock-down will be short. A circuit-breaker is a politician's lock-down - never mind the R-rate, the voters won't stand for another lock-down so let's re-brand it as a "circuit-breaker" and tell them it'll be over by Christmas.
We can talk about a circuit-breaker in the way we can blather on excitedly about Artificial Intelligence. What we get is a lock-down. What we get is an algorithm deciding our A-level grades.
Circuit-breaker = lock-down. We all go back indoors - not for long this time - and when we come out of hiding, the virus will, um, still be there. Nothing will have changed.
I guess we're all waiting for the vaccine that will wipe clean the world - every surface free of Covid-19; all viruses cancelled.
That's absolutely going to work, isn't it?
We go in for a circuit-breaker, come out, get sick, go in for another one, come out, get sick ... and then on some glad confident morning a few months into the future, a pharmaceutical company announces "We've got the vaccine!"
They'll price it affordably and produce enough doses to fix the entire world population.
There will be no politics in the distribution.
Within a week the virus will be as totally eradicated as polio was, er, twenty-three years after the World Health Organisation declared the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
The future is so very simple, really. We just unplug ourselves for a while, do it again maybe a few times, and then we come out, get an injection, and covid is history.
I was going to suggest a switch in policy away from short-term catch-phrases towards preparing us all to live with covid for a while - you know, build bicycle lanes rather than a third runway at Heathrow; put university lectures online (behind a pay-wall?); pay nurses a living wage - but it hardly seems necessary now.
There's a circuit-breaker coming up! That'll fix it!
[By way of a footnote, I want to mention a weird cognitive dissonance I've been experiencing lately. I think I can call it a weird cognitive dissonance - I've been hearing one thing and it's been reminding me of another.
It's just that lately, when I hear people talking about the end-game with Covid-19, they sound like senior military officers talking about the military end-game in Afghanistan or maybe it was Iraq. There was always some kind of amorphous victory-situation beginning to coalesce in the near future that somehow over-rode the simple truth that they were only talking to the media because something had gone wrong. We could be optimistic because, despite conditions on the ground, some kind of metaphysical victory-condition was beginning to be met.
Is that unfair? I hear a similar weightlessness in all the verbiage about how we're going to beat this virus, et cetera, world-beating, blah, waffle, blah. People are dying. Young people are presented with the possibility that it's their fault if their elders fall sick.
My thought is - if you can't describe victory in clear, simple terms - black-and-white tanks on the streets of Paris, population cheering - you're not winning.]
What happens here
This site is updated weekly, usually on a Friday although I might change that (again). I write it because (1) I like writing it and (2) I like having a deadline. More often than not, it works out as a commentary on the week just passed*.
There are no ads, no pop-ups and no tricky business with cookies. I don't take money for my own opinions. [Except when they come out in book form.] I write this for myself, without a set agenda, on any subject that catches my attention. If you're interested enough, it's not hard to work out my interests. Not impossible, anyway.
*Although I seem to have gone away from that recently. Normal service may or may not be resumed.
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Where are we now? We're hurtling round the sun, held to the ground by a weak force that we don’t begin to understand, arguing about trade deals between the land masses on a planet mostly covered by water.
The dolphins must think us ridiculous. No wonder they only come to the shallow water to play with us, not to signal their most complex philosophies. More.
Riddle. It takes two to make me, but when I'm made, I'm only a memory. What am I? Scroll down to find out.
Is that a catastrophe I see before me? Could be. There was a clear sky earlier, but now clouds are encroaching from the North. We could be in for a storm. More.
You found me!
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Read My Shorts?
Here is yet another page of old blog posts and other writings. Sorry, but I need my metaphorical sock drawer for metaphorical socks. The link to the page is right at the end of the paragraph here.
Roads without end
Here is a passage from a review of the book The Road to Somewhere by David Goodhart. I haven't read the book (yet), but the collected reviews would make a worthwhile set of political arguments in their own right. More.
State of the Union
Several commentators today saying that they've lost confidence in the US. Making their point by talking up the glories of the past. After two weeks of this administration, they're not going back.
Were they wrong, and they've seen the light? Or has the US changed? I guess the latter is the intended meaning. But we should at least acknowledge the possibility... More.
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