Tag Archives: Chewing the Fat

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?

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.

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.

Working for Nothing

If you love music & respect those, who make it. You need to keep an eye on what the UK government is doing, or more precisely not doing to implement EU copyright law. Copyright is the legal right that allows an artist to protect how their original work is used. Article 13, (now 17) of the EU Copyright Directive requires online platforms to stop copyrighted material getting onto their platforms.

Most agree the Directive is far from perfect, but it starts to push in the right direction by realising artists need protection in the digital world of user-generated content. Surely, it’s in the consumer’s interest we ensure artists, including musicians, filmmakers and illustrators receive fair remuneration for the work they produce, and we go on to enjoy regardless the platform we receive their creative endeavours be it digital, radio, cinema, TV or gallery?

There is a BBC link here, which provides useful background information, but for now, this is my take on the situation after reading several items across a number of news outlets, including the Musician Union.

Smoke and Mirrors

During 2019 The UK Government was one of the key supporters of the Directive, which was not surprising given the importance of the ‘cultural industries’ to our domestic economy. But In January 2020 the UK Government announced it will not be implementing the Directive. In the duplicitous world of politics, it’s not difficult to discover the short gap between what governments say and what they actually do. Still, even Flipper the Dolphin would be impressed by Boris Johnson’s flip-flop.

What had changed in such a short period of time? The only significant event to have taken in this period is, of course, the general election in the UK that Johnson’s Conservative’s won. It is easy to come to the conclusion that Johnson was saying one thing to one audience before the election with a plan to deliver after the election.

Most if not all the big on-line platforms who are reliant on user-generated content are very much against the copyright law not only because it places a greater onus on them to police their own platforms, but they are unlikely to be keen on the prospect of diverting revenue away from themselves towards deserving artists who make the content that drives people to use their platform.

The tech companies are nothing more than 21st-century monopolies interested in maintaining their market share and profits. The two largest streaming services have over 75 million tracks on their platforms giving them a disproportionate hold on the market. Think of tech companies as empty supermarkets and the artist is the producer, delivery driver and shelf-stacker who is then paid on a sales only basis.

The core business model for these tech companies is to reduce their costs, maximise their revenues and push risk and cost on to the producer of content they need (ie the artist). The tech companies want to spoon-feed you a diatribe of commercials and they certainly do want an informed customer base. This explains why the tech companies have fuelled campaigns against the proposed Directive by dumbing down the debate around the narrative “the meme ban” it is not.

Little Man Lost

The power social media and hosting platforms hold over politicians is the same the print barons had. Johnson will do as he is told be in no doubt.

Johnson now claims that it was “a classic EU law to help the rich and powerful” and “a good example of how we can take back control”. This is just claptrap and what is simply happening here is Johnson is supporting the interest of big business over those of individual artists working, against the odds, to create content we want to enjoy.

Johnson, like Trump, has used these tech companies and their platforms to great effect and it’s not in either parties interest to threaten their self-interests. The power, which the social media and hosting platforms hold over politicians is similar to the power the print barons held over politicians in recent history. Be in no doubt, at the end of the day Johnson will do as he is told.

What Remains

I’ve always had a curiosity with empty houses, mainly when derelict. It’s a fascination I’ve had since childhood and one that inevitably catches up with me when exploring the South West countryside. On these unplanned explorations, I often come across empty farm buildings. As I step across the doorway, there is frequently a feeling of intrusion given I often come across personal items of little value. An old tie is hanging in a cupboard recess or rusting oil lamp. Each piece is holding its own short story. A reflection of past lives, including my own.

In my birth town of Stockton on tees, there was an old dog racing track (Belle Vue Park) in the neighbourhood, opened in 1946 and the track closed around 1974. Sitting in the grounds of the stadium was a grand old house with a large garage. It was only a matter of time, of course, after the place closed down, that we found a way into the stadium, under the less than secure fencing to explore the grounds.

Racing our bikes around the stadium where the electric course hare would zoom around the inside of the track as the dogs frantically chased in pursuit. Finding our way in the house, and offices and discovering the antiquated telecom and public address system. Singing the lastest Slade single over the public address system, taking turns to shout a swear word, which would attract the attention of the local neighbourhood and the soon to arrive police car.

Belle Vue Park is long gone, like the guys who would give us 3 pence for looking after their vehicles when visiting the races. Now, what stands there are rows of two-story blocks of flats, all neatly paraded with their inhabitants enjoying TV dinners in the company of the ghosts of past memories.