Can it really be true? Has the government of the UK decided not to honour an international treaty that it itself signed not many months ago? We are told that the key aim of the new bill, published yesterday, is to ‘ensure peace in Northern Ireland’. But what has changed since the government signed the withdrawal treaty? If it prejudices safety now, why did it not then?
Is the UK now destined to become a pariah state? How on earth is any other country going to commit itself to a trade deal—or any other agreement—with us, when our government, at will, chooses to disregard its international obligations? And what sort of response might we expect when we start lecturing Russia, or China, or Iran, or North Korea on their disregard for international law?
I had thought that Johnson’s government had sunk low—count the ‘U’ turns this year—but this takes us into the gutter.
Note added 12 September. Even the Daily Telegraph sounds a real note of caution in its editorial today. If Johnson has succeeded in upsetting that newspaper, things really must be serious.
I may finally have found a genuinely readable—and digestible—introduction to philosophy: The History of Philosophy by A C Grayling. It takes me a bit further than the Monty Python Philosopher’s Song, which enables me to memorise some of the more obscure names. The book presents the subject in nice bite-size chunks, and does have some surprises. For example …
Generally, book-burning is the province of those characterised by extreme intolerance; one or two examples from recent history readily come to mind. But David Hume, an Edinburgh man generally regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of the eighteenth century, advocated burning books:
‘If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.’
Clearly, a polemic against theology and some of the more rarefied theories of philosophy. Hume’s view encapsulates the ideas of Logical Positivism, a system of ideas advocated by the ‘Vienna School’ in the 1920s and 1930s. Regrettably, that group of scholars were dispersed to the four corners of the earth by the regime that took over in Germany and Austria at latter end of that period, and guess what one of their favourite activities was?
Listen to Michael Morpurgo read his short story, A Song of Gladness, on Radio 4, today, just before 10 o’clock, and I defy you to do so with dry eyes.
It is a prose poem really, and heartachingly captures the spirit of what so many of us are feeling at the moment.
A view towards the north west of a beautiful wheat field near Chelmsford. Just after the picture was taken, the lowering sky was bisected by a large barn owl which swooped down, skimming the crops, looking for a furry meal. As I walked up, a hare loped away through the stalks. In the middle distance, running right to left—hidden in the valley—the river Cam varies from a trickle one inch deep to a torrent, depending on the rain. There are also skylarks, buzzards and Jays, and a magnificent fox, no-doubt interested in the hare.
And Chelmsford Council want to build 800 houses here …
An account of Edward Duke’s bizarre theory of the origin of Stonehenge, Avebury and Silbury Hill—and other Wiltshire monuments—is published this month in the Wiltshire Family History Society Magazine. The article was extracted from my forthcoming book on Edward Duke. Download and read the article here: http://www.mirlibooks.com/edward-duke.html
I was just listening to the news on the wireless of Dame Vera Lynn’s death, when the loud noise of a low-flying aircraft caused me to go into the garden. There was a lone Spitfire, flying south quite low; I’m sure to salute her. It was a deeply poignant moment.
Who are they? There are quite a few. ‘They’, are the architects of this country’s departure from the EU. We all know who they are. All the objective analyses, and anyone not blinkered by decades of being drip-fed anti-European rhetoric by the right-wing press, could see that financially this country would be significantly better-off inside the European Union than outside it. Even the government admitted it, and when, after our departure, the reality finally struck home, no-doubt Gove and others would have pointed to the various so-called benefits of ‘taking back control’ as being worth the cost.
But Covid-19 means that they will never have to make those justifications, because the financial penalty of the pandemic will ensure that any measurable cost of the departure from Europe will be a proverbial fart in a thunderstorm by comparison.
In the years to come, it will be worth hundreds of PhDs; the ‘what ifs’ that might have happened had the country’s finances not been rocked to the core by the cost of the lockdown, and the entirely justifiable cost of underwriting the wages of millions of people.
There is one small consolation, and it is quite delicious. The person who is now our Prime Minister—I will refrain from using my favourite appellation for him at present—always wanted the job he now has. But given the current situation in the country, perhaps he is reflecting on one of the sayings of his darling Greeks: “Those whom the gods wish to destroy, first they drive them mad.”
Bringing the country safely though this crisis would, I fear, drive a much smarter man that him round the bend. The irony is though, that the joke’s really on us.
It is a measure of the ineptitude of some members of the administration, that Matt Hancock risked squandering the considerable good will existing in the country towards the government, in its efforts to manage this crisis. He made himself a hostage to fortune by setting the target of 100,000 tests by the end of April, but then could not resist the temptation to fudge the statistics.
The real stupidity here was not so much in misrepresenting the actual tests that had taken place, but doing so when it was inevitable that scrutiny from the media and elsewhere would soon reveal where the truth lay.
The country trusted the government over lockdown, even though millions would be considerably financially damaged as a result. In such circumstances, trust is absolutely essential. But how can we now trust what we are told, when such a childish attempt at obfuscation has been perpetrated by a government minister at the epicentre of the struggle against Covid-19?
A week or so ago I was interviewed on Brigham Young University Radio about my theory regarding the alignment of the Box Tunnel and the birthday of Brunel’s sister Emma. I’m embarrassed by my constant ‘err’s and ‘um’s; no excuse except nerves. Anyway, if you want to, and you can bear it, you can listen to the broadcast here: Broadcast. You can also read the original article, without the errs and ums here.
Yesterday, on my government-allowed walk around the local field boundaries, I elected to listen via my iPod to Act III of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. The opera, Twilight of the gods, details the fall and destruction of the gods and their fortress Valhalla, built up and finally annihilated by Wotan’s hubris, arrogance, greed and selfishness. It seemed to me a perfect metaphor for what is happening to us all – particularly governments around the world – made all the more apposite by the latest comments from WHO, to the effect that a vaccine for Covid-19 might not be possible. And to rub salt into the wound, recovery from an infection could be no guarantee against re-infection.
No doubt this news was greeted by most people with considerable dismay; none more so than those in the ‘at risk’ category like me. But how bad is this really? Around a third of the population of Europe was thought to have died from the Black Death in the 14th century. Bubonic plague killed 100,000 in London alone in 1665/6. The Spanish Flu outbreak at the close of Word War I was responsible for between 20 and 50 million deaths.
Until the 1940s when antibiotics were developed, the majority of people not massacred by human agency died from infectious diseases. Victorian literature is crammed with people expiring from consumption (tuberculosis), smallpox and ‘fever’ (probably typhus or typhoid). Regular outbreaks of cholera killed tens of thousands, including my gt-gt-gt grandmother in 1849. For none of these conditions was there any cure. Throughout the entirety of human history, humans have lived (and died) with infectious disease.
Nevertheless, it is a wake-up call. Perhaps it’s a warning. If I believed in divine retribution, I would say it was a judgement on our own arrogance and contempt for the planet; our incessant plunder of the world’s resources and headlong craving for profit above everything.
It will certainly stress-test the government of practically every country, particularly ours. See the Sunday Times story ‘38 Days when Britain sleepwalked into disaster’. This piece is from one of the Dirty Digger’s organs, and he is a newspaper proprietor not noted for his hostility towards Conservative governments.
Charles Darwin identified the process of evolution by natural selection, but he had no idea of the mechanism that caused organisms to change and evolve. Subsequent research has proved beyond doubt that random mutations in the DNA sequence are responsible for alterations in living things, and there is absolutely nothing that can be done to stop it. The process is built into the very structure of life on earth. In fact without it, humans would never have evolved.
There is, therefore, an ever-present risk of new infectious diseases emerging as existing viruses and bacteria continue to mutate. Already, bacteria are evolving immunity to existing antibiotics, a matter of considerable concern to the medical community.
We must hope that a vaccine can be developed and drugs found to mitigate the disease symptoms of Covid-19. Alternatively, we may just have to balance our innate gregariousness and wish to socialise, with the ever-present risk of catching the disease. Without a vaccine, life will never be the same again, that is until the next mutation …
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs