Friday, 30 August 2019

Proroguing Democracy

I debated about whether to abandon writing my blog for this week, or even for good; the news is just so discouraging, it feels as though I am screaming into a vacuum, and the net result of that is a metaphorical sore throat.

I am of course outraged that our unelected Prime Minister has chosen to bypass any kind of democratic discussion of his Brexit proposals, and then has the nerve to suggest that it has nothing to do with Brexit. His latest outburst (as of 6pm this evening) is to claim that all those trying to prevent the No-Deal Brexit are making it more likely as it gives the European negotiators hope that sense will prevail at the eleventh hour and BJ will cave which he won't. Okay, I've paraphrased the last bit, but that's the general gist.

And what can I do about it?

We've written (well, Rod has, cc'ed me) to our MP in the past, who has replied very politely but firmly stating it was the will of the people and all that, and of course she has concerns but she was sure that Mrs May would address them. That worked out well (not). But the exchange of emails suggests to me that any further contact would be pointless. Maybe I should do it anyway. Then at least the vacuum I'm metaphorically screaming into would have someone else in it.

I could resort to Twitter. Hugh Grant put it most eloquently in this tweet  (those who don't like sweary tweets should probably not follow the link) but has received some appalling comments in reply. Trolling is clearly a major opportunity for those who have excess vitriol. I personally couldn't deal with the kind of attacks that are meted out to Grant and his ilk (eg Philip Pullman) for daring to suggest that what has happened is undemocratic, unethical and, in some aspects, illegal. Fortunately very few people read this blog and most of those are from my own bubble, so I should be okay expressing such views here.

Join a demonstration? I gather there will be several around the country on Saturday, including Oxford (details of them here) but unfortunately I have a prior commitment, going to the graduation of my niece who has just completed her PGCE. I don't know how effective marches will be - the media plays up or down the numbers of demonstrations, depending on their agendas, and the relevant parties/cabals believe what they choose to believe irrespective of the facts.

Ultimately, I feel powerless. And the irony is that many people voted Leave in the referendum because they felt powerless. I can write about it here, I can use poetry as an outlet, but I don't have any real influence over what will happen. I voted in the referendum, and I voted in the general election, and none of it made any difference. It's no wonder that people stop bothering with the democratic process when clearly that's not where the power lies.

Friday, 23 August 2019

Changing the Climate of the Amazon Rainforest

Last week I was going to write about climate change, but the weather was so awful I struggled to do anything at all, let alone put on my wellingtons for the lengthy walk (aka 5 yards) to my office to write a blog entry.

So this week, I am still going to write about climate change, but with a lightly stronger sense of urgency and focus.

The Amazon Rainforest is on fire.

Ok, not *all* of it, though frankly the maps suggest rather a lot. But these are fires that a) are largely man-made in origin, and b) have been burning for over a month.

I know that some forest fires are good for the forest. The redwoods in Yosemite, for example, appreciate a good burn of ground cover occasionally so that the light can get in and the seeds can germinate.

But this is different. This is the planet's lungs, effectively, being destroyed in the name of greed. (Read this article for some in-depth info that will shock you.) The European media have finally noticed too.

We rely on the Amazon rainforest for more than just an interesting range of flora and fauna. The amount of carbon dioxide stored in all those plants is remarkable. And for those who can't remember how the carbon dioxide cycle works, if it's released from plants into the atmosphere, it helps create that Greenhouse Effect that non-scientists don't believe in. It needs to be stored, and we need *lots* of trees to store enough to stop the Greenhouse Effect wreaking havoc.

Nature had reached a reasonable balance between the amount of CO2 we breathed out and the amount the plants could absorb. And now we are wrecking it. How long before we reach a point of no return?

It's no longer a case of remembering to sort your rubbish into the different recycling bins. If this planet is to remain habitable for our children's children, we need to start behaving differently in the first place. Even the politicians have finally realised.

All of which puts my complaint about the August rain that stopped me mowing our 'lawn' last week rather in the shade.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Timetabling a U-Turn

It would be tempting to suggest that there were no entries in July because July was cancelled. In reality, it was because I was away for most of the month. A cancelled month would have been so much better for everyone (rather than just me).

However, here we are in August, whatever the weather, and the usual political silliness on both sides of the Atlantic seems to have extended itself to the people who run the railways.

On August 7th, the news broke that the UK would no longer be part of the Interrail scheme, that allows for extensive railway travel across Europe. Depending on which source you use, we were either pushed out or we withdrew. Either way, the change would have made it unlikely that travellers would have gone beyond London (the pass would still be valid on Eurostar trains) if, indeed, they bothered to visit the UK at all.

People were furious. Especially people running tourist boards of places beyond London.

Astonishingly, the train operators heard the furious people. And on August 8th - a whole day later - the decision was publicly reversed. They *were* going to suggest that a separate BritRail pass would be the best option for visitors to Britain. But not anymore. As per the ITV news website, industry body the Rail Delivery Group said it renewed talks with Eurail Group, the company running the Interrail programme, following "strong reaction to news of our departure." They were, in fact, able to reach an agreement together. Which had been impossible beforehand.

All of which tells me two things.

One, it is entirely reasonable to change your mind about something publicly when you realise that your previously-held view may not be appropriate.

Two, talking to your opponents when under pressure can yield results.

Both of which suggest to me that a No-Deal Brexit on October 31st is completely unnecessary - provided we have reasonable people in charge. Bring on another General Election, I say...

Friday, 28 June 2019

'In risu veritas'*

Mark Twain is quoted as saying, "Humor (sic) is the good-natured side of a truth." (I'm going with this quote on the subject, as Twain is American, rather than the possibly better-known 'many a true word is spoken in jest', that can be found in Chaucer and Shakespeare.)

While I hesitate to concede that Trump has a good-natured side, the idea that he can joke with Vladimir Putin about election meddling is a little worrying. The Democratic candidate debates have now started in the States, and Trump wants to have four more years - presumably he hasn't undermined the system quite to his personal satisfaction yet - so meddling from a country whose leader thinks that liberalism has had its day, that Trump is talented and that freedom needs to be limited to remain within the bounds of tradition, isn't something to joke about. We need progress from the kind of Stalinesque values Putin seems to hold so dear, not a regression back to them.

Meanwhile, on the same day, it is reported that Theresa May has told Putin there must be no further interference in the style of the Salisbury attack. Of course, Russia denies any involvement. One has to wonder if other interference - such as election [for which read 'referendum'] meddling would be acceptable. I haven't seen any report of Putin's view of Boris, though as someone who is perfectly happy with a personality cult and no problem with outright lying, he'd probably be happy if Boris won.

That's the Boris who says we're out of the EU on October 31st with or without a deal, and his cabinet will be made up of people who support a no-deal Brexit, an arrangement disliked by the banks and industry, quite apart from people who travel much. Though, let's face it, Jeremy isn't a whole lot better.

It's no wonder I'm grumpy and need to apologise unreservedly to anyone who had the misfortune to interact with me yesterday....

*Latin quote by James Joyce apparently, punning on 'in vino veritas'. A bit of bilingual knavery there!

Friday, 21 June 2019

Garden Invasion

I couldn't face writing about the main stories in the news this week, politician-laden as they are, so I thought I'd write about a higher life-form.

This wee beastie.

Not the best of photos, but I didn't want to get too close, and there was a certain amount of camera shake.

I was doing some gardening a few days ago (yes, it does happen, if not as frequently as it should) and was pulling out a load of sticky weed, or as I grew up calling it, lady's bedstraw, and noticed a number of these creatures. They looked like a cross between a scorpion and a caterpillar, and being very brightly coloured, I assumed they were toxic.

They are not aliens, contrary to any initial suspicions, but in fact (I believe, after some extensive research on google) are the larvae of the harlequin ladybird, a large and aggressive immigrant version of our own beloved ladybird. The harlequin ladybird, the internet reliably informs me, is larger and more orange than red, with less distinct spots. A little further perusing of the weeds found a couple of these adult versions, doubtless responsible for the outbreak of something that will probably inspire Hollywood and my nightmares.

(Now the etymologists among you entomologists will of course point out that 'alien' is from 'alia' as in other, from another place, so technically they are aliens. They certainly looked it.)

Alien or just aggressive invader, I wasn't having any of it, so some more ruthless weeding took place, in addition to some preemptive pruning wherever the little 'darlings' had settled. I'm sure they will enjoy the warmth of the composting bin. I could only find a couple this morning when I went searching with the camera app switched on, and this one was trying to do a bunk even as I snapped it.

Admittedly, I wasn't wearing my glasses, so it's possible the garden is laden with them. What chance the birds will snap them up as additional delicacies.....

Friday, 14 June 2019

When going to hospital makes you worse

There used to be signs up in the local GPs' surgery asking patients with 'flu to stay at home, rather than infecting other patients in the waiting room (they may still be there, but I haven't been to the doctor recently so don't know).

It's evidently a problem as people sit around waiting, that all their infectious/contagious conditions can be passed on via the magazines and toys that are supposed to provide entertainment. (I always take a book.) But you would have thought that a hospital would be better able to separate out such people, so that going to hospital generally got you better, rather than worse.

I can't comment on the rate of infection via hospital waiting areas. However, it is worrying that hospital food - so often the target of criticism for its poor quality as it is - can be a fatal source of infection.

The outbreak of illness related to hospital food reported here is potentially very widespread as the company involved supplies 43 NHS trusts across England. It seems to me that economies achieved by production on a very large scale simply result in lower employment across the country and a higher potential risk of problems. And that's before the quality of the meals is considered.

According to the article, the lines known to be affected have been withdrawn and production stopped, for now. But a number of people have died, others are very ill, and I know that if I am in the unfortunate position of being in hospital any time in the near future, I shall be asking for food parcels to be brought by my visitors.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Why I Find British Politics So Depressing

So today Theresa May finally sets aside the poison chalice that is the leadership of the Tory Party.

Except the really poisonous part, which she hangs on to until the leadership election is conducted and successfully concluded. Being Prime Minister, while we dither over the terms of Brexit.

I don't understand why anyone in their right mind would actively want to be Prime Minister at any time, let alone now when the country is so completely divided. You might have thought that the arrival of Donald Trump would at least unite the country in our loathing of him, but no, Nigel and Boris looked positively delighted to see him.

And the leadership contest continues to rival the Brexit Catastrophe for laughability as the number of candidates is far greater than the number of Tory MEPs. They've had to change the rules to stop it become a total cascade of candidates.

While Theresa May has been leader of the Tory Party, the nation has been dominated by Brexit. Our MPs have been distracted from local issues - such as the completely unnecessary Oxford-Cambridge Expressway - by something that should never have been placed in the hands of the uninformed electorate in the first place. There has been no leadership.

As for the next leader, Boris appears to be the front-runner, a man described by Donald Trump as a friend and a 'great man', although he doesn't seem to be quite so popular within the ranks of his former colleagues in parliament. He probably has his own private health care, so if he is chosen, Trump will doubtless raise the subject again of US interference in the NHS as an integral part of any trade deal.

Our inability to look beyond party politics and some individuals' desire for power is breaking the country. The people who will suffer are those who are powerless to purchase a way out.