Sunday, 16 February 2020

Fiction is just more fun

They say fact is stranger than fiction and at times the truth is so oddball that it wouldn’t pass through the sieve of readers’ credulity, but within its own context fiction has the power to transcend every law of existence. We can’t time travel and as entertaining and believable such science fiction tales are, the fact still remains that time travel isn’t possible. But the clay of conspiracy theory, fired in the crucible of social media, has the power to warp reality so far that some people will fall for it.

Today, I encountered the following tweet: “According to some people, HRC died Sept 2016. Today, HRC is a clone. I've seen some very strange info about this theory, it's definitely interesting.” Woah, what, Hillary Clinton is a clone? The tweeter, not to be misunderstood, doubled down with: “Apparently there could be as many as 2000 people who are influential and famous who are cloned people under control via mind control programs like MK Ultra…” Whaaaa? Milton Keynes is controlling minds now?

Once you escape the bounds of gravity’s reality there is nothing that can’t become plausible in the malleable minds of people who have the time to dwell on such things. Often, I find, it’s the same people who believe in global conspiracies to keep the poor poor and imagine that the coming of the messiah is made flesh in gnarly old liars like Jeremy Corbyn. But not always; there are some alarmingly warped minds on the right, too.

Of course, the notion of mind control is appealing, especially to governments who want a placid, pliable population, but also to those who imagine they are the Honest Joes in the fight against such regimes. And thus Project MKUltra, as wacky as it seems, was a real thing. The Cold War spawned paranoia of epic proportions and if the reds under the beds were going to be resisted the CIA needed to give itself powers to work outside the rule of law. After all, they were the good guys, right?

But if you have ever been approached by a friend or a colleague who uses, as the prelude to a revelation, the phrase, “This is just between me and you, right?” you will know how hard it is to keep a secret of even the most mundane kind, let alone one involving thousands, if not millions of willing and conscripted co-conspirators. Like gods, most conspiracy theories are reverse-engineered from observed or imagined events.

You’re broke, the car just fell apart and the landlord is raising the rent. It is far more likely that these phenomena are totally unrelated, in fact that unrelatedness is likely to an extent approaching absolute certainty. But how much more comforting to find a unifying single theory that explains all your misfortunes in one easy, somebody-else-is-to-blame package? ‘They’ are out to get you; the New World Order, The Vatican, The CIA, Richard Branson and Dominic Cummins have conspired to keep you down.

But wait, why would all these powerful entities want to get at little old me? Maybe it’s not just me? Oh my, it all seems so clear now. You’ve watched The Matrix and now you imagine you’ve been red-pilled. Wake up, everybody, you cry. And then, when your pleas hit deaf ears, it is a simple step to imagine that this proves your deranged imaginings. Are they all in on it, or are they all dupes? From then on the metaphorical tinfoil hat is always on your head to protect you from…


From what, exactly? When confronted with something that defies your immediate ability to explain it, why do people find comfort in the convolutions of conspiracy? Maybe it’s because the truth is mundane and we are not the very special creations we imagine we are? I have my own theory about this, borne out of seeing the horrific rise of so-called ‘reality’ TV, the obsessions with other-worldly nonsense and the elevation of idiots to icons. Conspiracy theories are nothing more than entertainment for the unenlightened. Or is this just what they want you to think?

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Batteries not Included


I am a sceptic, it’s true. I’m not convinced, and there are many things I’m not convinced about. I’m not convinced High Speed 2 is a great idea. I’m not convinced that carbon dioxide is the planet killer it is claimed to be. I’m not convinced of the supposed neutrality of the judiciary. I am really not convinced one little bit that islam is the religion of peace. The fad of the day, gender fluidity, it seems to me, is an unconvincing mask for simple juvenile unhappiness and I remain to be convinced that actual equality is even a thing to strive for, let alone achieve in the main. I have a sinking feeling that in a world where all is equal then nothing is exceptional, exciting, or a reason to keep on getting up in the morning.

Oh yes, I’m a bit of a pessimist too. I am not saying that any of the aforementioned things are false, nor am I stating that belief in them is necessarily wrong, I am simply, as defined, a sceptic: a person inclined to question or doubt accepted opinions. But it’s not just opinions; supposed facts often turn out to be untrue, statistics are tortured into admission and the human mind has a seemingly infinite capacity for conflation, preferring the cunning conspiracy to the pragmatic reality that somebody, somewhere just got something wrong.

Scepticism is the primary tool of the scientist, or it should be, and in the search for greater knowledge we must never assume that all evidence is admissible. So excuse me, please, if I am les than welcoming of the current government’s alarming raft of revelations ahead of the budget. Maybe it is my pessimistic nature, forged in the furnace of Great British failures of the past, but it all feels a bit too much, a bit too far and a bit too soon. To me, the goal of #netzero is fallacious and unachievable. I don't believe for one second the much-vaunted diversity of the consultation process includes the voices of informed dissenters from the climate gospel orthodoxy.

Maybe this is just my pessimistic side gaining the upper hand but for every report I read of the miraculous advance of battery technology, there is one warning of the dire consequences of manufacturing expensive, difficult-to-dispose-of, potentially toxic devices. For every study hailing the amazing advance in renewable energy generation, there is a counter argument focusing on the unreliability of such technology. Go nuclear! But, oh, nuclear; isn’t that associated with death and destruction?

The thing is, I don’t know the answer and neither do you. And neither do those who are advising the people who make the decisions; the people who spend our money. Because it is all about the future, it is all unknowable and even after the fact, there will be disagreement about whether what we did was good, bad, or terrible. (And it will certainly have been racist; you can bet your life on that.)

Here we go - all or nothing...

So, where does that leave us? It is often said that it is better to make a decision and live with its downsides than not to make a decision at all and be entirely at the mercy of fate. Given that nobody knows where Boris’s vision will take us and we have no means of stopping this speeding train, we have just two positions to take. Stand on the tracks in a vain attempt to derail it, with a certainty of outcome that would be somewhat sub-optimal. Or grab a flag and cheerily wave to passers-by. I’m still a sceptic, very much so, but for the moment I’m going to get on board and see where it takes us.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Lost world (Part 2)


Electric car enthusiasts say low range isn't an issue because most people do less than 80 miles a day. Maybe so, but I do that mileage and currently fill up once a week, or less, which takes me a few minutes. Having to charge every other night might be okay for somebody with a driveway and dedicated charging point, but for others it would mean either parking overnight twice or three times a week and paying for accommodation and charging, or else making two detours every day and taking onboard a ‘fast’ charge, which would still add at least half an hour to each journey. It is just not practicable.

Out there, in the usual online arenas, the word wars rage as converts (usually those who can afford hugely expensive, high spec vehicles and are greatly enamoured of their new prized status symbols) argue with those like me, who worry about the real cost, especially to those who can least afford it yet will have to help subsidise the switch from gallons to kilowatt-hours. Prepare for all your electricity bills to soar. This is a technology which should be left to the market to decide, not be imposed on all by the heavy hand of state.

If the UK government is really serious about tackling our emissions, fixating on one specific sector of energy use is a lazy mistake. Electric cars are sexy, they may be the future, but only for relatively few. (And what of bulk transport; electric 18-wheelers?) A wholesale reform of the way we live and work may be what is actually needed and while transport should be improved, making electric the flagship policy is going to gain few friends. When they also shut off the gas, who do you reckon is going to suffer? (Clue: almost certainly not those who can currently utilise electric cars.)

Once, long ago, in a country which looked entirely different from how it does now, populations bloomed where the industrial seeds had set down roots. Those industries have been offshored to cheaper climes; we get the brown people to make our stuff now. In return we have become a mobile economy which is not better, it really isn’t. Friends and family ties are severed, genuine communities have gone and the rise in personal transport has allowed them to fracture, even as it has given access to work further afield.

But people can’t afford to work where they live, usually because of housing pressures. And they are not easily persuaded to move closer, to end their reliance on personal transport, because jobs are so much less secure than before. Even with a properly integrated, holistic strategy, with assistance to move nearer to work, the encouragement of real careers once again and a decent, clean, efficient and affordable public transport network, there would still be a huge problem in persuading people it was actually safe to travel with strangers.

But we can’t easily put that genie back in the bottle and in the near-to-middle future people will still rely on personal transport. The past fifty years is not a good advert for public transport in the UK and I can scarcely bear to mention HS2…  So where does all of that leave us? How will the switch away from diesel and petrol and gas actually be achieved and will the stated gains of that policy ever be realised as our energy needs continue to rise; are we simply barking up the wrong tree?

We could totally shut down our entire energy consumption and huddle together for warmth and it would make sod-all material difference to the planet. UK Carbon emissions really are the least of our worries. Whatever we do, Mother Nature will be hale and hearty long after our species has ceased to dominate the planet. Charity begins at home, they say and maybe we should get parochial about this. We should be looking at ways to lessen the impact on ourselves and adapt to any change in climate, not trying to arrest a change that nobody fully understands in the first place.


But that isn’t sexy enough for this brave new world, is it? So expect further changes to be announced, expect energy policies to be edited on the hoof with every crackpot theorist given funding and recognition and every dissenter berated for their heresy. Expect money to be thrown at pet projects and the cost heaped on those unable to adopt the latest fad. Maybe this is the real thinking behind the west’s sudden obsession with climate change – give the plebs so much to worry about, so much to fear, that they will be grateful for the few freedoms they get to keep.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Lost world (Part 1)

If you are a fan of global conspiracies – and I know many of you are – you could do worse than to plump for one literally involving the entire planet in its evil designs for total control of all humanity. Except that’s all bollocks. What is undeniable, however, is that the world’s leaders have succumbed to an unprecedented level of groupthink as a result of the coalescence of science, mumbo-jumbo and fear which has risen from those same huddled masses you think are being controlled; if anything this is the other way round. I blame education.

Since the 1960s a low grade cultural Marxism has slowly taken hold and people power has resulted in many changes in our societies. A great many of them are for good, undoubtedly; the power of the crowd given a free vote has inevitably forced the kind of advances that probably would never have occurred to a ruling class who were not dependent on popularity. But the crowd isn’t always right and the crowd rarely joins the dots, with the result that unintended consequences often remain unforeseen until it is too late.

You want clean air for your kiddies to breathe? Of course you do. You want to save the planet from the spectre of catastrophic climate change? Who wouldn’t? The logical conclusion of all these leading questions is that climate change is publicly undeniably: bad, our fault, can be reversed… and can only be challenged by drastic action, no matter what other alternatives (such as adapting to climate change) are available. Something must be done, says the mob. Fuck me, say governments, as a result of which…

2035 is just the blink of an eye away. The UK government has gone deep with its pander-to-Saint-Greta strategy banning new petrol and diesel car sales in just 15 years. But to what end? If the UK ceased to exist, if it was obliterated entirely from the map, the world CO2 emissions would reduce by less than 1% and all the experts, insofar as anybody can be an expert in something as ill-defined as ‘climate science’ agree that this would make no difference whatsoever to whatever they are predicting today (prophecies vary).

But this isn’t what the UK is proposing to do. The Road to Zero moniker suggests that we will have a zero-carbon transport infrastructure in just a few decades, but this is nonsense. Even if the entire fleet was converted to electric we still generate plenty of CO2 emissions in the extraction of materials, transportation across oceans, manufacture and infrastructure implementation. Plus we still have to somehow generate the electricity to run this new miracle fleet which will, inevitably, have to use fossil fuels well into the next century.

Electric cars are powered by coal

At best we might reduce our overall carbon footprint for vehicles by about 20% and even then only by hiding it somewhere else. And at what cost? A quarter of a century ago the world of science said diesel was the answer, and not so long back hybrids were the key. Now both will be on the scrapheap. No more research and development, so no improvements and notwithstanding the VW debacle over the cheated emissions controls, small diesel engines were getting better and better all the time. That alone might have resulted in a similar reduction in footprint but those potential advances are now lost.

Instead the population faces a massive upheaval, not to mention massive cost. At a time when the new government could have got to grips with tackling the root causes of mass discontent within our society it has decided, instead, to embark on a vainglorious vanity project. Instead of doing the thing it was elected to do, it is trying to leap onto the world podium before the race has even been run. They used to say look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. That holds true for individuals, for communities, for governments and for the entire world. We should be jealously guarding our resources, Mr Prime Minister, not spaffing them up the wall in a pointless pissing contest.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

True Lies

The row between the press corps and Number Ten rumbles on. Good. Sanctimonious press spokesmonkeys have been cropping up to complain about how their job is to hold government to account. Well, no, that is actually the job of Her Majesty's official opposition (which admittedly has somewhat dropped the ball in that respect, but that’s no bad thing right now). The job of the press, of broadcast media, is to report the news. Yes, there is a place for analysis, but let’s at least start from a neutral position based on the facts.

Oh, wait, facts. Now there’s a slippery little eel to wrangle. Facts are not what they seem to be. We were brought up to believe that facts are verifiable nuggets of actuality. He did this, she said that, this happened and here’s the proof. But even with documentary evidence of said facts, are these facts ‘the’ truth, or just ‘a’ truth? When Boris said humbug it was misreported right from the off. When Gove denounced experts the nuance was lost and the apparently reckless slur has stuck.

No wonder politicians have media advisors who try to avoid their man being photographed partially obscuring words like count and court and blurting out unscripted sentences, no matter how well intentioned. Anybody who has ever ‘lost’ an argument even when they were absolutely right knows the power of perception. It is almost schoolground stuff, this propensity of the press to spin the news instead of just reporting it. So why should public figures put themselves in harm’s way when they no longer need the mainstream media as they once did?

Politicians in particular are now broadcasting directly to their voters and their detractors alike, so it is little wonder that Dominic Cummins and Boris Johnson have together decided to tell their own news. The Prime Minister’s own YouTube bulletins may infuriate the press but the public seems to like them. And there’s that thing the press does all the time; I just wrote ‘infuriate’ when ‘annoy’ might be more accurate.

You see print journos in particular seem to like nothing more than hyperbole: No.10’s FURY. Johnson INCANDESCENT. And don’t they love a good old CRISIS? Why would anybody want to contribute to the overblowing of events from disagreement into all-out war, from debates into full-on slanging matches. Do they think that their readers will not engage unless every last utterance is broadcast as some apoplectic outrage?

Then there are the adversarial show trials. Even when granted unfettered access to quiz a cabinet minister, why must every third-rate interviewer suddenly turn into forensic examiner on a mission? Let the man answer and let him answer properly and fully. So many combative interrogators have managed to distort the story and damage the subject by overtly controlling the event. And some of the most egregious distortions have been created by omission, by not asking the important question or, more often, not allowing an answer.


So I say let the mainstream media stew a bit, let them have a long think about what their purpose and their place is and let’s have less of the crusader mentality. In the meantime let those with a message get that message out there and allow the listener to decide. The objection will be, of course, that without the intermediary of the press to interpret and challenge what is said the poor little people won’t know what is truth and what are lies. The irony is delicious.