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Posts from the ‘Chewing the Fat’ Category

Capacity

After 25 years managing in a professional environment where the word ‘capacity’ frequently involves a justification to do little, please excuse me if I feel a bit fatigued with its application within the context of testing for the coronavirus.

Let’s peel back this context when Dominic Raab (The stand-in for the PM) explains the government as having a testing capacity of 40,000 a day, and this will be 100,000 in the next eight days.” On 25 March, the prime minister said: “We are going up from 5,000 to 10,000 tests per day, to 25,000, hopefully very soon up to 250,000 per day.” Professional anoraks often get themselves in a sweat over such terminology, but to help cut this short, there is the self capacity and then there is holistic capacity. There was a sleight of hand today by Dominic Raab who tried to shift the narrative from actually doing 100,000 tests a day to having the capacity to do 100,000 tests per day. Let me try to explain.

Self-capacity is pretty much self-explanatory. What government ministers are now repeatedly talking about is the government having the test capacity, which means having the resources and procedures in place so they can then commission adequate testing.

All well and good, you may say. Still, the health and care sector in the UK has been fragmented through the ideological enslavement of privatisation, outsourcing and artificial internal markets, as well as the climate of austerity, means that “self-capacity” is pretty futile. The government themselves do not do the testing. It is undertaken by either other parts of the state or a private agency contracted to carry out the tests.

One of the main reasons the government is struggling with PPE and testing is the lack of capacity throughout the health and care sector (holistic capacity throughout the supply chain) in the UK. We do not have an integrated national health and care service in the UK.

Decades of underfunding and trying to do things on the cheap through competitive market tendering have left weaknesses throughout the supply chain from service design, procurement, delivery and then right through to the quality outcomes for the person in receipt of the service.

Cruelty in our care homes is directly linked to UK politicians and social policymakers being obsessed with market competition in health and social care. The horrific case of Winterbourne View is but an example of what is going on and a simple Google search ‘care workers jailed for abuse in the UK’ will no doubt lift a few compassionate eyebrows.

At the end of the day, the government may have the capacity to resource 100,000 tests per day by the end of April. The whole health and care sector having the ability to deliver these 100,000 tests, well that is a different outcome altogether. The government are playing spin with the lives of our NHS and Care Sector workers, instead of sorting the supply chain shambles out.

In the murky world of political spin, the smoke and mirrors of tabloid headlines and the lack of interest for many to scratch beneath the surface, tragically lives will still be lost.

The Virus of Impunity

The decisions of Boris Johnson’s Conservative government have determined if a large number of people in the United Kingdom have lived or died. The only similarities between a state of war and tackling a pandemic virus are that when lives are at stake, there is no greater need for accountability. It was this reality and my growing anxieties that I wrote my first blog on this matter on 28th May 2020. The reaction to my first blog on this matter drew both criticism and praise.

Historically governments have stood and fallen by the decisions they made. However, in this era of fake news and an overwhelmingly biased media in favour of the government, it would seem Johnson’s administration is beyond accountability with impunity. In 2016 Johnson’s counterpart in the White House said, ‘I could shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.’ In other words, it does not matter what I say or whatever actions I take my voters will turn a blind eye. I am untouchable. His arrogance is neither surprising nor amusing but a sad reflection on the nation he leads. Likewise, Boris Johnson and his administration is a reflection of my country. Administrations on both sides of the Atlantic shelter in the disconnect between accountability, weak opposition and a voting populous that seem passive in demanding answers.

The UK Government operates as a sponge to public opinion. It continually seeks to weave its narrow ‘populist’ ideology through a maze of bobbing icebergs, tilting, swaying, ducking and diving. It is twitching a message here, making an empty promise there, and deflecting responsibility, while obfuscating in an ocean of soundbite drivel. The government is panicking, in holding its alliances together as it falls into its self-delusion of being a ‘one national’ political party. Paralysed by a Prime Minister terrified at the prospect of being cross-examined by journalists. A senior advisor with a hostile ‘drain the swamp’ mentality towards the civil service, they have created a toxic environment for a healthy government to function.

Trump threatens to withdraw funding from the World Health Organisation. The government in the UK encourages tabloid headlines demanding wealthy footballers take a wage cut to fund the NHS. Yet, the same cabinet of politicians sitting at the centre of this government made up of multi-millionaires as well as drawing down a salary paid for by taxpayers refuse to contemplate any financial sacrifice themselves. It’s all a cynical pantomime, a deflection, but a deflection with deadly consequences.

The media in the UK frequently compares data with the US, Spain and Italy. Those worst affected by the virus, but rarely with other states who seem to be delivering much better outcomes for their citizens. The Johnson administration dodges, but the questions will not go away.

Why is testing capability so inadequate in the UK?

Why is the UK government only publishing death rates from hospitals and not from the wider community, including nursing homes, like Franch, for example?

Why are our frontline staff in the NHS, Care Homes and those providing care in the community not being provided with appropriate protective clothing, but the UK Government can find time to promote a badge?

Why has a government, which branded itself with the ‘taking back control’ mantle continued to allow flights from some of the worst-hit enter the UK without suitable checks?

While our closet neighbour The Republic of Ireland cancelled St Patrick’s Day celebrations and large gatherings of more than 100 people. The UK Government allowed the Cheltenham Festival, large rock concerts and a major sporting tournament to take place on UK soil with a team from one of the worst-hit countries. At the time of writing close to 400 people had died in Ireland as opposed to 12,000 in the UK. If you adjust for population differences, there have been 7.4 deaths in Ireland for every 100,000 people. In the UK, there have been 17 deaths per 100,000.

The State of California, USA, is another part of the world that seems to be delivering much better outcomes for its citizens despite the goon show from the White House. On the 9th March, Santa Clara County banned gatherings of 1000 people, shortly followed to groups of 50 people. Other counties followed suit soon afterwards. California, whose population do not face the extraordinary levels of high-density living, as many UK residents do in our urban cities and towns simply took the threat seriously from day one.

When asked if one day or two can make a difference in the efforts to save lives Dr Neha Nanda, the medical director of infection prevention at Keck Medicine, University of Southern California, replied “Oh yes….even being one day ahead can have a huge impact,” she told the BBC. “the mortality we will be able to avert – it’s huge.” 

While nobody knows how this will end for either the UK, Ireland or any other country. One thing is factually at the time of writing. UK citizens are dying at twice the rate as their counterpart in Ireland. Why is this not being reported in our press?

Clash with a Titan

I must confess that upon relocating to London from Bristol in the late 90s, like a child playing with an oversized train set, I loved using the London Underground system. I never entirely understood the wails and grunts from work colleagues as they arrived at the office first thing each morning.

Accepted, it was not the best place to be on a hot day between Brixton and Vauxhall. Especially in an over-crowded carriage, waiting for the light to change and drivers unintelligible announcements.

Donning my headphones and observing the subterranean world become one of my little daily pleasures. Witnessing the solemn faces of passengers navigate the unwritten constitution, which governs the use of the underground with an iron glove:

Do not acknowledge other people
Pretend to read something essential.
Do not disturb.
Do not invade space and avoid all physical contact.
Do not intervene in other peoples misdemeanours.
Learn to pivot and balance against gravity.
When the occasion arises, gawk at your reflection.
Rush hour: Be a complete and inconsiderate tosser.

The practice of social distancing, before it became a necessity. After a period of using the same route a small acknowledgement, a nod of the head would be exchanged between familiar faces.

One particular day, it was my first week of employment at Lambeth Council. I was still coming to terms with the kaleidoscope of new names and faces, and I jumped on the system at Brixton Underground.

The carriage was pretty full, but not overcrowded. As the carriage pulled away, I noticed one of my new work colleagues down the other end of the carriage. I looked him in the eyes and gave him a firm nod of acknowledgement. He looked down and did not respond.

A few moments later, he lifted his head and looked my way. I gave him a smile and reaffirmed my acknowledgement. Once again, he looked away only this time a little more uncomfortably as if he was being tested by a psychopath. He tried to move behind somebody close to him, but I could see him looking at me through the reflection of the carriage window. I gave his reflected stare an acknowledgement, and he shuffled behind this human shield again.

Now feeling somewhat offended, I thought, fuck it, you miserable sod. The carriage pulled into Stockwell Station. I watched my supposed work colleague take a quick glance, again through the reflection in the window. I looked away in disgust. The driver announced the closing of the doors, next stop Vauxhall. In the blink of an eye, my work colleague jumped from the train onto the platform, leaving me with no time to join him.

With great stature, he stared directly at me, as the carriage slowly started to move. His eyes shouted out to me, “who the fuck are you?”

At this point, I realised my work colleague was none other than Mick Jones, guitarist from The Clash. Our paths were never to cross again.

Herd Impunity

A bit of a lengthy read, so I know I’ll lose quite a lot of people who absorb their knowledge through the cut and paste the meme culture of social media. If you believe the UK government has handled this situation correctly, then I’m not here to convince you otherwise or even attempt to change your mind. I suggest you stop reading now and go about your day. Those that remain please I encourage you to read on.

It may come as no surprise that you have been spun. Such is the growing unease in government it has been reported that Johnson has now hired the same ‘messaging gurus’ who sold the successful 2019 Conservative election campaign to oversee the communications on the UK’s response to the virus.  Public exposure to the Government’s cock-ups started just over a week ago when they admitted that “a communications mix-up meant it missed the deadline to join an EU scheme to get extra ventilators for the coronavirus crisis.” Until then No. 10 was ahead of the game with their slick new chancellor leading the public message, but you can only spend the same money a limited number of times before the fig leaf slips.

Remember as early as January 2020 reports of the severity of this virus were known by governments across the world. Those who immediately attacked it are now in the best position to manage it, which does not mean it will be easy, but it does look percentage-wise fewer people will die in those countries. As well the as lockdown, public advice and large funding stimulus packages to protect the economy. The key seems to be mass testing, in effect to hunt the virus down and kill it. This enables governments to understand the hotspots, how it is spreading and respond with appropriate restrictions when needed. This is precisely the strategy Germany has adopted and the results are the envy of those fighting the virus.

And here is the marked difference in German and UK leadership. The German chancellor has a Doctorate in quantum chemistry and the training to appreciate what the scientists were telling her and she act on it. As a country, Germany has a well-resourced health service and a strong industrial base. They had the capacity to respond. In the UK we have a clickbait writer in charge who is far more interested in projecting his pound shop Churchill pantomime act.

From January to March the Johnson administration with its pool of ‘weirdos and misfits’. The mavericks who think off the wall because Johnson and Cumings do not trust Whitehall civil servants seemed more interested in the notion of herd immunity. It was widely reported that Cummings had made some reference to, “if a few old people die, so be it. The priority is to protect the economy.” If this is true or not is hardly the point. The fact is that Johnson went on TV in the same period of time and spoke openly about herd immunity, letting the virus simply pass through the population and in his own words, “take it on the chin.” Johnson talked openly about shaking hands at the start of the crisis. His cavalier approach seems to confirm what many people believed. In the initial stages of the virus spreading, he did not take the threat seriously and viewed it as nothing more than the seasonal flu.

Let me try to explain herd immunity. This is simply the notion of allowing a majority of the UK population to catch the virus or the disease so they become immune. At this point, the virus can no longer spread and you achieve herd immunity. Measles can’t spread because our population is immune. So if someone comes to the UK with measles, one or two unimmunised people might get infected, but it no longer spreads. We have herd immunity. The herd is protecting the weak. Johnson’s self-entitled ‘weirdos and misfits’ had this idea that they could just let the population get infected. Once 60 per cent of the population was infected, the epidemic would be over because there would be herd immunity.

The trouble is if you just let the virus spread at any rate and lose control, you actually get overwhelmed with the numbers of infected people. The UK’s population is 70 million, 60 per cent of them is 42 million people. Even with a 1 per cent mortality, that’s 400,000 deaths. (Further reading here) Currently, in the UK, the mortality rate is 5 per cent, which translates to an estimated 2 million deaths.

Boris Johnson suddenly realising the magnitude of his dreadful mistake in taking time to listen to his ‘weirdos and misfits’ who seemed more excited about eugenics than the immediate task of saving lives. While some governments had started to fight back Johnson was still caught pondering his university undergraduate days and the privileged networks where along with his friends and fellow toffs like Toby Young they would self-flagellate over (Young’s term) “progressive eugenics.”   

Johnson went into full panic mode to change policy by backtracking and staying away from public scrutiny. He is now beyond accountability and questioning as he is self-isolating. From the confines of his isolation, he makes pronouncements. His latest is “testing would unlock the puzzle.” 

Firstly, it’s not a puzzle. It is a virus and like all virus’s you need to hunt it down and kill it. You can only do this with information and data. You only get this information by (you’ve guessed it) mass testing. Secondly, he is now spinning beyond his own control by repeating things he does not understand. It’s straight out the Trump playbook, say something often enough, and ultimately some people will believe you and he will probably get away with it. People want to believe. And when you have a sizable proportion of the public in fear they are hungry for belief and will believe in anything. At the moment, the UK is some way behind other countries when it comes to testing. South Korea, for example, has been able to test far more widely than the UK. Despite having a slightly smaller population than the UK, it has twice as many labs and about two-and-a-half times the weekly testing capacity.

At the end of the day, people have died because of Johnson’s stupidy. Though the vast majority of people (thankfully) will not be faced with losing a loved one because of his incompetency. Any decent person under the illusion that Johnson is fit to be a world leader will no doubt seek herd impunity once this is all over.

*Written as a criticism of his policies and competency and not the man. I wish him and his partner a speedy recovery. 

Don’t Pause the Film

Today would have been my parent’s 64th wedding anniversary and once a year around this time, I share a photograph, which I have taken, not in sadness but celebration.

Just short footnote in the annuals of life where a child can recognise the luck they have had in life. I’m acutely aware that not all children have had the foundations of good parents. My heart truly goes out to them, but as important as it to recognise the failings in our world. We should also acknowledge and honour when things just simply go right. It is now 4 years since my Mum and 3 years since my Dad passed away.

Yes, I miss my parents every single day. Still, I don’t allow this to overcast what lovely people they were individually and collectively as parents. Things were often never perfect, and I did not get the opportunity to carry out those plans in later life for them, as I’d planned in my head. Time, you see it is a bugger. Its the one resource we often take for granted and is in short supply for everybody.

If life is a film.
Don’t pause it.
Don’t try to rewind it.
Live it.
Embrace every frame as if it is the last before the credits.
And remember you don’t get the opportunity to write those credits.

Bone Machine

Released in 1992, Bone Machine was the 10th Studio album from Tom Waits.  Back in the early 90s music mags regularly featured a free cassette tape, which contained a selection of tracks from the recently released albums. This was my introduction to bone machine. A cassette, which included the track The Earth Died Screaming. Unlike CD’s or streaming devices, the cassette format made skipping between tracks a bit of an art form, especially when driving.

The effect of being pinned in your car, having to endure all types of music, you would not usually select with limited ability to skip tracks certainly helps educate your taste. By the way, the album cover was taken by Jesse Dylan, Sir Bob’s son.

Bizarre Love Triangle

Leveson Inquiry

Love Triangle: Leveson Inquiry*

Our addiction to celebrity extinguishes another star, and the well-oiled cogs of fabricated grief immediately started to turn. Sympathies have been expressed. Role model status bestowed, conspiracies now conspire, and countless posting of soft-filter photographs on social media accounts have been shared. The newspaper trolls who hounded and vilified while in life are now immersed in their obnoxious expressions in death.  It’s the remorse we cannot manipulate. Its to be discovered in that briefest of moments when we find ourselves at our most vulnerable. The fleeting second we all have between consciousness and sleep. Where genuine self-reflection happens as we lay naked with only our thoughts to determine if we are to enjoy a peaceful night or insomnia.

A place where over-edited selfies have no value, and we cannot hide behind the virtual wall cocooning our fear of reality.  A reality, to be drip-fed on short term/zero-hour contracts in a get rich quick or die trying competition. A world where the excesses and those who harbour greed float to the surface and pollute all empathy. Where a docile mass are steered away from questioning power and seeking accountability over those who hold it. 

To become a consumer with default choices, low expectations and subserviently programmed to the whims of the market. A market where anger is depleted, isolated and suppressed through a matrix of automated complaints systems. Where any notion of rebellion is distilled, branded, repackaged and monetised.

Haplessly we proceed to consume the chase of celebrity. We enjoy the hunt and even after the kill we dig over the carcass seeking every morsel, every detail, that will offer an explanation. After all, they “had it all” the lifestyle, the beautify and no less the fame. Its everything we clamour for from behind our mobile phones and all along, we could hear those muffled screams. Still, we decided to ignore the cry of, “I’m a celebrity get me out of here.”

(*Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press was cancelled by the Conservative Government.)

Big Wheels Keep On Turning: Part 1

Big wheels keep on turning. There is no bigger truth. Those feeling depressed and dispirited by the current state of politics in the U.K. should remember what goes around, ultimately comes around. Many look back with rose filtered glasses to the Conservative-Thatcher decade of the 80s. The decade when the barking dog of unfettered greed was unleashed. Forty years on are there parallels between now and then? Then I was a young man growing up in the North East of England. The heartland of Labour’s so-called red wall, which lazy political commentators get so excited about from their studios in London or garbling hyper-nonsense from the steps of Downing Street.

Right-wing, working-class patriotism has always been a reality behind the ‘red wall’ as it no doubt exists behind the ‘blue-wall’ of Christchurch.

Now and then the Tories manage to select a leader from their most elite ranks, who by birthright attain the Tory crown and their spin doctors, advisors and supporters then mould a persona and finance their chosen one’s adventures behind the red wall.

Back in the 80s, it was Thatcher, and now it’s good old Jolly Johnson who enjoys nothing more than driving dumpster trucks, sharing a jar with his flat-capped buddies down the local and sticking it up those pesky foreigners across the channel.

The late 1970s/1980s in the U.K. were much more than punk, disco, padded shoulders, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Filofaxes, house brick mobile phones and the birth of “loads of money.” For many, it was often a fucking bleak and violent place to exist.

Poverty rates rocketed as the gap between rich and poor escalated beyond anything previously experienced in our modern history.  The Brixton Uprising, followed by civil unrest in Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham.

Blair Peach who campaigned against the rise of fascism was killed by a member of the infamous Special Petrol Group (SPG) within the Met. Police, who were less trusted than a South American paramilitary hit squad. The SPG seemed to operate with impunity under cover of the stop and search law, which permitted a police officer to stop, search and potentially arrest people on suspicion of them being in breach of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824.

Clause 28: Played on the ignorance, prejudice and fear often felt towards the gay community. As the world mobilised against the apartheid regime of South Africa, Thatcher welcomed its leaders to this country, as friends. Extremist’s in the Conservative Party, including Thatcher’s husband Denis, who happened to have business interests in the racist state, openly applauded denunciations of the ANC as a terrorist organisation at the Conservative Party Conference. Other delegates called for the hanging of the ANC leader Nelson Mandela.  March 1990 and again, towns and cities were subjected to violent riots. This time against the poll tax, introduced by the Conservative government of the day. Then in 2011, under the watch of the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron rioting broke out in London, Birmingham and other cities in the U.K.

The script may change, it may be tailored, dressed up, spun and efficiently targeted through Fakebook ads, but be in no doubt whatsoever the book remains the same.

The Johnson administration is now feeling its way, pushing against barriers it may feel are sensitive, to test the waters and judge the strength of push back they receive. The deportations of Jamaicans by the Johnson administration is straight from the Trump textbook, which is to agitate discontent between communities. Stirring up the pot to see what happens, forming the narrative, and drip-feeding messages to a targeted audience.

Johnson is merely a complicit puppet in the reactionary and populist politics, funded by billionaires and oligarchs whose only interest is to destabilise any sense of oversight or accountability by any government i.e. their war on the EU. Unfettered greed will ultimately consume itself, but in the meantime, a lot of poison is going to be injected into our social fabric, which will take time to rinse out.

When I look back at the 80s, put them into context today, and reflect on what I believe is coming over the next five years. The depth of the damage, in my opinion, will be determined by the level of resistance our young people give to it. Until then, Johnson will continue to push.

My hope is that it does not result in violence, as it did in the 80s, 90s, and 2011, but given the track record of the Conservatives I don’t think they care that much, to be honest. To them, it will only be collateral damage.

Taste a little Sweetwater

Sweetwater, one of those bands from the 1960s who through a set of circumstances beyond their control never seemed to receive the credit or recognition they so much deserve. Initially conceived as a regular house band playing the coffee shops in and around their native California the band quickly became the regular support for The Doors and The Animals in the late 60s. They charted in the US with a cover of Motherless Child a song most associated with Paul Robeson. Their 1968 first and self-titled album in my humble opinion is a little gem of the original psychedelic era that is often overlooked.

Many a pop quiz pundit will know that Sweetwater were booked to open the original Woodstock in 1969 but due to the numbers attending and the related traffic jams, they were unable to get to the stage on time. Then later that year lead singer Nansi Nevins was badly injured in a car accident, which hindered the progression of the band.

My favourite track from their self titled album is My Crystal Spider while the lyrics to What’s Wrong, (video below), seems more pertinent today than back in 1969.  If you’ve not heard the album and you are partial to a little 60s psychedelia then welcome aboard and take a trip.

Day After The Night Before

The remains of the party poppers are to be swept away, unfinished drinks to be cleared up, and the nostalgic memories of the night before have already started to fade as a cocktail of hangover remedies are downed. A collective sigh from the madness of the past 4 years is in the vague hope a sense of normality can be restored, but this morning feels the same as the day before. A realisation that the same chasm, which existed before, exists today, and we continue to dance around the fire that has consumed us.

We are in mourning, confused, seeking to re-establish a sense of something that we cannot speak of because they have tethered our vocabulary, our right to free speech and expression.

They’ of course have a multitude of manifestations depending upon our personal circumstances and not worthy of repeating here, but they have turned us into self-imposed victims. It’s always somebody else’s fault and somebody else is to blame. As we now stand alone, accountability now firmly sits with us. That pothole in the road, the waiting list to see a doctor, the zero hour contract, the shape of bananas.

This morning we stand to puff our chest out against the wind, alone, but in reality, the past 4 years have been a symptom, not the cause and the celebrations last night are not the cure.

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