This could be a really long post, but I just can’t be arsed. So here’s my thinking. It’s not very elegantly done, but I’m sure you get the point:
I’m very sorry for the Ukrainian people.
Putin is indeed a megalomaniac loon.
I know very little about the issues on either side, apart from it being historically extremely complex.
There are plenty of other conflicts going on in the world that are not being rammed down our throats with hysterical language by every media source.
Most of the other conflicts involve brown or black people, but that’s OK because they’re brown or black.
We’ve just had the shock horror reactions to the virus. Before that it was Brexit/Trump and there were other things before that.
I freely admit to having written many angry posts about Brexit, largely because I was personally involved. That was wrong of me. I don’t know how Brexit’s going to work out in the long run. Nor does anyone else.
There are plenty of other issues going on in the world that are not being taken as seriously as the war in Ukraine or the virus. Poverty, overconsumption, overpopulation, energy prices, climate change, biodiversity loss, mental health, equality… If we’d put the same effort into fixing those as we have into “staying safe” and standing with Ukraine, we might actually be getting somewhere.
And some of the things people are doing to “support” Ukraine make me boggle. I mean, booking Airbnb places so the owner gets your money directly? Exactly how many of those do you think are owned by the average Ukrainian???
And I ask myself why doesn’t everyone see the Facebook I stand with Ukraine frame as the same thing as clapping for the NHS and kneeling to show support for Black people and all the rest of the virtue signalling BOLLOCKS it clearly is.
And then I go and get on with the rest of my day, exactly as if I had put the Facebook frame on my profile.
Over the last week or so I’ve thought of several posts I want to write about the coronapanic. But then, on one of my frequent visits to the wonderful worldometers.com to check the current figures and how various countries are faring, I spotted their other statistics. Such as the fact that, as I’m writing this, there have been 350,000 births today. That, encouragingly 40 million bicycles have been made this year but only 20 million cars. That depressingly, there are 850 million undernourished people in the world, and 750 million obese ones.
And finally, that 6 million blog posts have been written today. Given that my posts get at best about 100 readers, and that – much though those readers are very nice people and I’m grateful they read my witterings – none of them are influential on a world stage, I think it means I’m wasting my time trying to put together any coherent statement about why I think this crisis has been handled wrong, and where I fear we’re ultimately heading with all of this. If you’re a student of history you can probably predict the latter for yourself. If you’re remotely competent at being objective and reading statistics, I’m sure you can see many flaws with the former.
So I may write more about the panic. I may continue to blog about other things. Or I may not. I’ve been trying, once again, to meditate regularly, and one of the things that came out of a slightly calmer mind was the realisation that I’m stressed by the many many tasks on my mental ‘To Do’ list. And writing blog posts is one of these. So I hereby give myself permission to just not.
I also give myself permission to just not Facebook either, as it’s currently like having a Daily Mail reader shouting in my face every time I open the site. (Exceptions will be made for a) UP Radio, b) things like the translator chat group and the online translator’s pub quiz, and c) PetitBambou’s online meditation sessions.) I’m not currently sure if Twitter will have to go the same way, because my feed is much less toxic, consisting of a mixture of writing Twitter and No Man’s Sky players. Games are helping me enormously at the moment. Though it’s a strange feeling cycling round the deserted Normandy countryside for shopping then coming home and cycling around the deserted Navezgane countryside to loot the ruined houses inhabited by zombies in 7 Days to Die. As soon as they make masks compulsory IRL I’ll even have a similar outfit in both worlds.
Anyway, you know the drill. I shan’t say “Stay safe”, because the phrase makes me want to vomit. But stay sane, if you can. And if not, I hope your madness is a pleasant one.
In case you’re wondering, the stuff I could have written about:
Why the French government chose to lock down the entire country, despite numbers of infected being almost zero in vast parts of France, when everything else runs as though each département is a self-governing country. Even totalitarian China only locked down the infected bits. But somehow Europe has to close entire countries.
Whether, if masks were the way to control the virus from the start, this means lockdowns were pointless (and, as I’ve pointed out before, far more damaging to society as a whole).
Whether, if lockdowns were the right way to go, we shouldn’t therefore actually lock down – rather than all still pottering about going to the shops and forcing everyone in the logistics chain to continue exposing themselves to infection.
What the point of all of this is, given that a) it could take months if not years before we get a vaccine that’s even partially successful, b) we all have to die one day and c) the number of people who’ve died from the virus is still a drop in the ocean compared to, for example, the number who’ve already died from smoking this year, which we could stop instantly if we banned all cigarette manufacture (but we can’t because the companies who make them pay our governments vast sums to be able to keep killing us).
Why there’s such hysterical criticism of Sweden for not locking down. Personally, I think this comes down to superstition. “If we all stick to the rules, we’ll be all right, and because Sweden isn’t doing that, we’re all in danger.”
Why, on the same subject, people are saying that Sweden’s approach is a failure because they have 1.5 times more cases than Norway, which, as well as having half the population of Sweden, is the richest country in the world (excluding the tiny places like Monaco), and therefore tolerably well supplied in terms of healthcare facilities.
Why top medical officials are apparently unable to distinguish between the total number of dead – which is inevitably going to increase every day – the number of cases, which reflects the spread of the virus, and the death rate, which reflects how good or bad any country’s healthcare system is.
How long it’s going to be before the UK’s mass hysteria about applauding the NHS becomes compulsory, with neighbours grassing each other up if they don’t participate, despite the fact that, demonstrably, 43.6% of the population didn’t give a toss about the NHS at the last election, just four months ago.
Whether everyone else’s weather has mysteriously got considerably sunnier and warmer since we’ve all stopped flying everywhere. And, slightly more worryingly given that we’re coming into summer in the northern hemisphere, whether air travel was simultaneously contributing massively to global warming but also protecting us against the worst effects of the heat.
What happens next. I mean, not just how long does this continue, but where do we go as a society? I read tweets and articles saying “everything will be different”, but I’m pretty sure that after this most people will be only too happy to just go back to commuting and consuming like they were before. And I very much fear that governments will take this as an opportunity to crack down on civil disobedience. “You can go back to work, but you can’t go to the beach. We, your betters, can fly around the world for business meetings, and you can travel squeezed in together on public transport, but you get no pubs, no restaurants, and certainly no more Fridays for Future protests.”
I’ve had a certain amount of pushback about my last article on the pandemic, so before I post any more on the subject I thought it might be a good time to make my principles absolutely clear:
Nobody could hate the capitalist system more than me: I’ve been arguing for 30 years that we’d all be much better off if we went back to living in an extended family setup on our own patch of land, feeding ourselves and getting plenty of exercise and social interaction. And with the benefits of modern technology (healthcare, education), plus those of creativity (art, music, theatre) provided to us through professionals who would receive a tithe of our produce.
I firmly believe that capitalism is a poison to the Earth and to humanity. It promulgates an attitude of continuous and conspicuous consumption that’s totally counter to anything sustainable. I believe in a single universal wage, draconian measures to prevent/clean up pollution, and that no company should make a profit that isn’t immediately invested in making society better for all of us.
Furthermore, I don’t have a pension, investments or anything else that might suffer from an economic collapse. The two houses of which I’m a joint owner are worth maybe 200k€ in total on a good day. So I have no interest in propping up this system.
I’m perfectly well aware of the risk this virus poses to vulnerable groups: I have a number of close friends/family who are cancer sufferers, asthmatics and/or old enough to be in the high risk group. No, I don’t want them to die because all of you can’t be arsed to stay at home for a few weeks.
I am not suffering whatsoever: I work from home. My life normally consists of doing exactly what I’m doing now. My workload has actually increased since this crisis began. And in any case, I have a chunk of money set aside that I inherited a couple of years ago when my aunt died.
I’m currently in lockdown in rural France. I have a very large house to live in, and although it’s a bit basic (like, pretty much entirely unheated), it’s really not a struggle to be here. I can go out for walks or ride my bike around the country lanes.
And, on the lighter side of things, I’ve had dreadlocks since 1993. I’m not going to come out of this with a self-inflicted bowl haircut.
So… now that I’ve established I’m not a sock puppet for our capitalist masters, let’s move on to the serious stuff…
Our destination, globally, is clear. We are heading for economic – and thereby social – Armageddon.
The warning signs have been there for years. Decades.
But there’s an irony to what’s happening: it isn’t rampant capitalism or environmental collapse that’s endangering our world. Not an asteroid, nor even a nuclear war. No. Instead, it’s incompetent and panic-ridden leadership on an enormous scale.
What we’re doing to our economy – globally – in response to a relatively small threat from a virus is a massive, massive over-reaction. And long after the virus has (hopefully) gone, the much greater costs, even in terms of life, will roll on for years to come.
The economy needs to be restarted. Now. Before it’s too late.
All these shutdowns are the wrong medicine. They’re a panic measure. A flexing of the wrong muscles, too late in the day.
Look at it like this: imagine the roof of your house has a leak. The leak is a nuisance. It’s spoiling your furniture and possessions inside the house. One of the bedrooms is now out of use. The leak needs to be dealt with. Yes.
But would you knock the house down in order to deal with that leak? No. Of course you wouldn’t. You’d work slowly but diligently towards moving things out of the way and accept that there will be some loss, some damage, call it what you will. But you’ll get through the wet days and repair the leak.
And once it’s all done, you may even (hopefully) admit that you were very wrong, for so many years, to not invest in repairs to such vital structures as your own roof.
As things stand, it isn’t too late to prevent decades of damage – and the loss of countless thousands, perhaps even millions of lives – as a result of the current policies of economic suicide. Things can be done to prevent that catastrophe from ever happening. Free money can be given away, for, say, the next 18 months. Governments can reduce their tax takes, generate economic growth with massive stimulus packages and, of course, invest heavily in that most precious of things: healthcare. The staff, the hospitals, the medicines and the equipment.
On the other hand, in order to spare significantly less than 1% of the population a close (and, yes, sometimes fatal) encounter with the Covid virus, we can carry on demolishing the whole damned house. And, once that’s done, and we find ourselves destitute and on the street, we can then try to blame it all on the wet weather.
A guest post by Geoff. You can get his unputdownable transgender romance free this week on Kindle (here for UK readers, here for outside the UK).
COVID-19. It might be a short term thing or it might be the end of civilisation as we know it. A nasty form of cold germ or a species threatening menace. Who knows?
But whatever it is, it should be tackled in a systematic, cool, reasoned and logical way. And that isn’t happening – far from it.
Let’s look at English football. No, it’s not ‘important’ in the grand scheme of things, but it is a multi-billion pound industry and a good example of how the current crisis is being handled reflexively rather than reflectively.
All games are currently suspended until 3 April. Then, the official line goes, the matter will be reviewed again.
Well…. the bug will still be here on 3 April. That’s for sure. And, in all likelihood, the situation in the UK will be much worse by then.
So what will the authorities do? Obviously, they will continue to suspend all games. After all, if they’ve done that now, and things will be worse in April, then that seems to be the logical choice.
But for how long will they suspend them? The clock is ticking. If they want another season to start in August, they can’t kick the can down the road for many weeks.
In fact, they’ll have to consider another option.
But what other options are there?
Cancel the whole season? That’s one way forward. Liverpool – on the brink of their first ever Premier League title – will be mightily annoyed about that. So will Leeds and West Bromwich Albion – both looking likely to return to the Premier League. On the other hand, the likes of Norwich, currently doomed to be relegated, will be well chuffed. The implications of suspension are immense, both financially speaking and in terms of ‘fair play’. Clearly Liverpool, Leeds and the others deserve their rewards.
Stop the season here? Say that these are the final tables, as things stand at the moment? That’s nonsense too. Fulham could yet win promotion. So could Brentford. Villa could be relegated or they could escape. Same as above; financially and in terms of fair play, this solution would be bullshit. This isn’t any better than cancelling the season.
In short, the only solution – even if civilisation stands on the brink of collapse! – is to play the rest of the games. Just to do so behind closed doors. It’s not like we can’t do video streaming of games now.
But, hang on…. if that’s the only sensible solution… why the fuck did they suspend all the English matches in the first place?
Why? Well, because the authorities haven’t acted rationally, logically and calmly. They’ve panicked and done the equivalent of bulk buying loo roll ‘just because’.
It’s the same with closing shops and schools – but allowing airports to remain open. How is it ‘wrong’ to send your kid to school, or to go to work in a shop, but ‘right’ to still fly from London to Guangzhou or Paris to Istanbul? What about the wider implications of bringing the whole economy grinding to a halt without any safety nets in place for vast swathes of it? Doesn’t that mean even more people are going to die?
There is no consistency here. No logic. Ironically, no keeping calm and carrying on.
Whatever the COVID virus is, whatever it may or may not do to us, we – and particularly governments – should be controlling the situation in a calm and coherent way, not just running around doing the first thing that comes to mind.
As someone who can’t be doing with hysteria, either on a personal or national level, I’d been intending to write a blog post complaining about the stupidity of the Italian government’s overreaction this week to the number of cases of coronavirus in the north-east of their country. And to relate it to the insanely biased media reporting of the “successes” of UKIP, which led to Brexit and so on.
I mean, I don’t want to die of the coronavirus… but nor do I want my personal liberty removed for the flimsiest of reasons, in an uncanny parallel to the restricted security measures we now all suffer “to prevent terrorist attacks”.
But then I thought about what a pandemic would actually mean in the slightly longer term.
Let’s say a third of the population of any given region died from the coronavirus. Now, as far as I know, even the Greta Thunbergs of the world aren’t advocating that we reduce the world’s population by 33%. But would it clearly reduce anthropogenic pressure on the climate? Yes. On the environment as a whole, in the form of reduced resource extraction, reduced water use and reduced pollution? Yes. On the race to the bottom in terms of salaries and employment conditions? Yes. What about the burden on our healthcare systems? Well, initially it would be hideous. But after the death rate had stabilised again? Statistically you’d probably lose no more medical/ancillary professionals than you would anything else. And there’d be fewer of us needing their services. The same applies to education and all those other “luxuries” that we apparently can’t afford to fund properly in the 21st century. We’d have to use the skills and resources we had in much more efficient, intelligent ways. That would be great for the whole planet.
There’d also be housing sitting empty, cars unused, whole swathes of farmland untilled – and inevitably some laxity on the part of the normal authorities. We wouldn’t quite be back to the days of the tŷ unnos (or whatever the actual practice was that allowed poor people to claim squatted land), but possibly not far off.
The world would be a very different, quieter place. We’d have to rethink a lot of what we currently accept as normal.
And yeah, OK, I might be dead. But that’s going to happen some day anyway. And I’ve always had a love of post-apocalyptic stories. So… coronavirus pandemic? Yes please! Bring it on!
I don’t know what your reaction was to the announcement by the British government of a new, points-based immigration system, but mine has developed over a period of days, like a particularly interesting coloured bruise.
The biggest, purplest, patch comes from the fact that I’m not actually sure I’ve ever known anyone in the UK who has a job paying more than £25,600. I certainly wouldn’t want to bet my life on knowing more than three or four of them.
Then there are various colours made up from “What counts as an official sponsor? Or an appropriate skill level?” to “What foreign-born person with a PhD is going to bother to try to gain entry to such an obviously xenophobic country?” and “You have read the level of English in Brexiteer comments, right?”
And then I contemplate my own arrival in a foreign country, aged 35, with no obvious skill set and a minimal grasp of the language. I got a job as a hotel cleaner – along with all the other immigrants – and spent the first couple of months in the job nodding vigorously, saying “Oui” and then copying the more experienced cleaners when the manager instructed me to clean such items as “les plinthes” (that’s the skirting boards, in case you too never encountered this particular term during your school French lessons).
By the time I’d lived in France for a year, I spoke the language fluently enough to get a job selling houses. By the time I’d done that for a year, I could speak it well enough to rock up in an obscure hamlet and engage the nearest paysan in a patois-ridden conversation about who might possibly have an empty house they’d like to sell.
And by the time I’d moved to another country and gone through the same process again, I realised I could set up as a freelance translator; a job in which I set my own working hours, refuse projects I don’t fancy the look of, and earn about three times what I’ve ever earned from a “real” job (and yes, rather more than the magic £25,600 a year).
Because, unless we spring like the other Cabinet members, fully formed from a public school education and several hundred years of wealthy ancestors, it sometimes takes us ordinary mortals a while to find our place as useful members of society. Occasionally, we even need to move from one country to another to do it. We may even – shock, horror! – have to become self-employed! But that still doesn’t make us unworthy of living in the UK.
Except by choice, of course.
You can find out for yourself whether you’d be eligible for immigration* in this fun game, made by Upstart Theatre.
It’s been a blast, Britain, and you’ve put on a thoroughly entertaining play, but I’m afraid I’m going to step out before the end of the last act.
Because it’s pretty obvious that despite all the lies and the electoral fraud and the lies and the misrepresentation and the lies and the BBC’s “mistakes” and the lies and the obvious unfitness to govern of pretty much everyone in a leading Conservative role – oh, and the REALLY VAST LIES, I MEAN, LIES SO HUGE YOU CAN PRACTICALLY SEE THEM FROM THE NEXT GALAXY… the British electorate is going to vote the Tories back in again. Again! I mean, I still haven’t forgiven them for the 1980s yet, and you think this utter shower of shite can be trusted in any way?
Which means there’s going to inevitably be a no-deal Brexit, with Britain leaving the EU at the end of 2020.
And I’m sorry, but that’s really not my problem any more. I voted Remain the first time around. And I could see which way things were going right from the start, which is why I applied for Swedish citizenship the day the referendum was announced, a year before it was actually held. Long before that, I always voted tactically against the Tories, even when that meant voting for my idiot boss as the Liberal candidate (he lost, unsurprisingly). But this time I can’t vote in the General Election at all, because I’ve lived outside the UK for so long.
Which says it all, really. I’m a European. I’m not British any more. I don’t need to worry about what’s happening in that quaint little country where I used to live. I’d fix things for you if I could. But I can’t. So I’m going to do what the rest of Europe is doing – shrug my shoulders, wash my hands of you and get on with doing European things, like having a huge market to sell my services to and being able to travel as and when I like. Rejoicing in our differences and our similarities and our varied cultures and languages. Trying to move away from colonialism, not towards a mythical Golden Age of Empire. Accepting that the world is getting less and less white and more and more generally brownish and being perfectly happy with that. Not being offended by people speaking foreign languages in the street – because usually the person speaking the foreign language is, in fact, me. The immigrant. The economic refugee.
So I’m unfollowing all the Twitter people who have striven bravely to prevent Brexit. I’m even, regretfully, going to unfollow my beloved Ian Dunt, who’s put in a Herculanean effort explaining this insanity, sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis. I’m even going to abandon the utterly wonderful Jess Phillips. Because British politics really isn’t relevant to me any more. And I simply don’t need the stress. My feed’s going to be pretty empty for a while, but there are plenty of other things I can fill it with. It’s a big world out there, after all.
I’ve dashed this off rather quickly because, although it’s only been brewing in my head for about 48 hours, things in UK politics are changing so rapidly and so insanely that by Thursday the entire country may be under martial law governed by a junta. So it’s not as concise as I’d like, and it should probably be two separate posts.
Still, when the British government are announcing that they might start ignoring the law just because they feel like it, I’m not absolutely sure writing a perfect blog post is terribly important.
[And yes, I know I promised at least a couple more writing exercises, but I’ve been busy, and then travelling, then travelling while sick, and then just sick.]
Comparisons with the English Civil War have abounded ever since the extent of the country’s division over Brexit became clear.
And it’s a tempting correlation. Like the Civil War, Brexit has split the UK along entirely new lines. Rich side with poor, north with south, urban with rural, and family members are almost literally at daggers drawn.
But it’s that “almost literally” that embodies the difference. We’re all furious about it – whichever side we’re on – but none of us are actually going to take up arms and make this a real fighting war.
Of course, that’s partly because we don’t in fact have arms to fight with. Yes, most of us could muster a pointy stick, but that’s about it. We don’t have swords. We don’t (thank God) have firearms. Any pitchfork you might have hanging around the house is likely to be doing exactly that – suspended on the wall for decoration, the shaft long since well and truly hollowed out by woodworm.
But it isn’t even the lack of weapons that makes it different.
As with most wars, the English Civil War had a range of complex causes, including religious differences – the key reason why the Brexit situation isn’t and never can be the same – but essentially it arose because the people of Britain weren’t apathetic.
These days, we have our toasters and our TVs and our steel-belted radials and although we do say something, we do nothing. We protest, we march, we sign petitions and crowdfund billboards, but we don’t take direct action. We don’t (again, thankfully) start killing our neighbours just because they’re on the other side. Why? Because we might lose our perceived personal freedom. Before the real Civil War, things were different. People already were losing their personal and religious freedom, and their possessions. And they weren’t as distant from death and reality as we are today.
The right wing, with their advanced grasp of the best levers to use on the masses, have long since realised this. So they’re not worried. Particularly as the left are still ineffectually trying to combine their parties, or create new left-wing ones, to beat the Tories and bring this madness to an end.
Which leaves me wondering why nobody’s thought to create a party on the right, to soak up the traditional Tory voters and siphon them away from the loonier, Boris end of the party. To establish a common sense, traditional conservative with a small C approach to the whole Brexit issue.
It’s not like there aren’t plenty of Tories who could be involved. Ken Clarke. Michael Heseltine. Dominic Grieve. John Major. I’ve said and thought many rude things about all of them in the past, but these days they seem to be the only people in British politics talking any kind of sense.
All it would take is a rich backer to support individual candidates in every suitable seat – because there probably isn’t time to form a party as such before the next General Election – who’d all stand on a common platform, with a single name. One Nation Tories, perhaps?
I reckon that would split the Tory vote and lose them more seats than anything else, and perhaps bring some sadly lacking common sense onto the UK’s political landscape. After all, Macron did exactly the same thing in France two years ago. Surely it’s worth a go?
So there’s going to be a vote on whether or not to have another referendum. And that means Brexit’s dead, right? Well, no. Sadly not.
For a start, the referendum bill is quite unlikely to pass in the House of Commons even if Labour do come out in support of it, which is by no means certain.
But let’s ignore that and assume it does, and that we have another referendum on EU membership – a “People’s Vote”.
The big problem with this, as all of us who said Brexit was a totally insane idea right from the start know only too well, is that The People are politically illiterate and couldn’t rub two genuine EU policies together if their lives depended on it.
Many polls (yeah, bias, inaccuracy, whatever, not going to discuss that now) show that a vote might not actually produce a result much different from last time.
So let’s say it’s the same – 52% Leave, 48% Remain. Does that represent more of a mandate to leave than the first time around? Does it, in fact, represent a mandate to leave with no deal – currently the only option on the table?
Clearly not. No more would a 52/48 split the other way represent a clear mandate to remain, after all this time and a second vote.
In fact, I’ll go even further. I don’t think even a 60/40 split – either way – would be sufficiently clear at this stage for the other side to just go “It’s a fair cop” and stop being furious about the result. And can we realistically expect even that level of clarity from our fellow Brits? I strongly doubt it.
So even if we have a second referendum, with all that entails in terms of vitriol and – above all – even more delay and concomittant cost to the nation in both money and stress, we still won’t be able to achieve a ceasefire.
Because although it’s never been declared, we’ve been enmeshed in civil war for two and a half years now. The Brexit Civil War.
With rare exceptions it may not be being fought physically, but it’s certainly being fought every day across the mental landscape of Britons and anyone else unfortunate enough to live in the war zone. And it’s having consequences just as serious as any physical conflict.
And given that, perhaps… just perhaps… it’s time for all of our politicians to stop trying to score points off each other and actually come together and do something practical to get us out of this situation?*
By all accounts, this is the position the UK was in at the start of the Second World War, with politicians unable to agree as to what stance to take on a whole range of issues. Then we were lucky enough to have someone like Churchill who could unite everyone behind him.
So with just 71 days to go until Britain crashes out of the EU, who’s going to step up and put the country ahead of their career this time? Because it’s certainly not going to be control freak Theresa May** or her enabler Jeremy Corbyn.
*My own preferred option would now be EEA membership, with a plan to review that on, say, a rolling five year basis. No, it’s not perfect, particularly in terms of the gammon-relevant immigration issue, but it’s a whole lot better than anything we’re currently being offered.
**I have much to say about Theresa May, none of it polite, but that’s a subject for another post. As for JC – as a leftie Europhile I can’t remotely begin to express the depths of my disappointment in that man, so I shan’t even try.