Uncle Bogler is on holiday.
If you can call it that….
Uncle Bogler is on holiday.
If you can call it that….
I have heard the number of displaced persons worldwide put at 60 million.
Here in Britain we are, as usual, selfishly focussed on only a few thousand, perhaps three, perhaps as many as five, camped in rough shelters in Calais, 32 miles across the English Channel.
Each night, in ever greater numbers, they have been trying to rush the hundreds of freight lorries and breach the flimsy defences separating the town from the rail freight terminal at the mouth of the channel tunnel, desperate to get to Britain, even as illegals. Some have died trying.
We don’t know what to do about them, we only know that we can squeeze our eyes tight shut and wish them away.
Despite that they are interviewed nightly on TV, we have no desire to know who they are, or why they are here. As far as the denizens of Sofaville are concerned, they are only trying to get here because we stupidly give them money and houses and jobs that aren’t available to the (white) natives, at the expense of hardworking British taxpayers.
They are coming here to sponge on us.
The more extreme elements on the internet are even suggesting that we send British troops to French sovereign territory, to shoot the migrants as they attempt to leave the country.
The governments of Britain and France have no solutions: politicians wring their hands, large sums of money are expended on ‘security’ – more ineffectual fences, more ineffectual police. ‘People traffickers’ are held to be responsible, and must be ‘targeted’.
Meanwhile, the 6-axle trucks are backed up for miles along the M20 motorway leading to the port of Dover, their motors running, and the motorway is closed to traffic. Millions of pounds worth of food has been spoiled, trade between Britain and Europe badly affected.
It is all the fault of the French.
Why don’t they send these people back where they came from? Why are they allowed to leave Italy, Greece, the countries where they first arrive in Europe if they have survived the perilous journey across the Sahara desert to wartorn Libya, and across the Mediterranean in coffin-ships, to wander unchecked and without papers, all over the place?
The sound of moaning fills the summer ‘silly season’ news agenda, the dead time when the media generally resorts to demonising some fashionable target: feral children, devil dogs, benefit scroungers.
Migrants at Calais.
This morning, a BBC reporter accompanied a party determined to hop a freight train through the tunnel, as they breached the wire. The first people she interviewed were an urbane Syrian couple, from Aleppo. The man spoke near-flawless English, and I felt deep shame that, according to Amnesty International, we have taken in precisely 178 families fleeing the carnage in Syria and have no plans to take in any more.
The UN High Commision estimates that there are over 10 million displaced persons from the Syrian conflict, some three million of them internationally. Turkey has taken in 1.8 million refugees, Jordan and Lebanon most of the rest.
Many more of the Calais migrants – it is a mark of our grotesque insularity that we have not noticed that there are many more migrants camped out behind other French channel ports – have come from other conflict zones or politically intolerable, failed states: Darfur, Somalia, Eritrea, Iraq, and probably can make a good case for an asylum claim.
Many have relatives in the UK, who would vouch for and support them. Because we don’t want to know who they are and why they are here, they are all foreign, coloured and probably secretly terrorists of the so-called Islamic State, we have no idea what skills and qualifications they could bring to this country, and we don’t care.
The CEO of the country’s largest house-builder, Taylor-Wimpey, was complaining only the other day. ‘How many new homes have you started building this year?’ he was asked, and replied, about thirteen and a half thousand. ‘But we need 200 thousand a year!’ the interviewer exclaimed. ‘You are giving all this money away to your shareholders; why aren’t you building more homes instead?’ ‘Because we don’t have enough skilled labour’ was the reply.
Soon, we will start forcibly removing protesters and unwilling householders from vast tracts of land on which the government proposes to build a new runway for Heathrow airport and a high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham. Who will work on those projects, if we cannot even find labour to build enough homes for our rapidly expanding population?
Mr Cameron, the Prime Minister, who is becoming ever-more notorious for talking the talk but failing to walk the walk, has been speechifying about the problem. His favourite word, a public-school headmasterly word that he uses to lecture all and sundry, is ‘unacceptable’. He remarks that Britain is a great country, with jobs and economic prosperity galore. But we must jealously guard our borders or everyone would want to live here. He describes the migrants as ‘a swarm’, as of annoying insects.
That is certainly true of the French, of whom some 450,000 now live in the UK. We cannot stop them coming in because we are signatories to the Treaty of Rome, which guarantees free movement of citizens within the European Union.
Nor could our European neighbours have prevented some 1.3 million British pensioners from residing in warmer climates. We all enjoy free movement, at least for now – until the English vote to drag Britain out of the EU.
Weak and vacillating, headline-averse politicians have failed time and again to grasp the nettle, and to recognise the problem of global migration. It is a vast population shift not seen since 50 million were displaced in the Mongol invasions of the C13th and C14th. In the aftermath of the Second World War, too, millions of Europeans were destitute and homeless, roaming aimlessly amid the starvation and destruction.
Somehow, those problems were solved.
We need a military solution to the problem of migration. By that, I don’t mean machine-guns and water-cannon. I mean, the kind of logistical planning and executive ability that only the military seems to have any experience of. There is no use in entrusting the task of resolving the migrant problem to politicians, who are basically hollow suits.
My solution, ‘unacceptable’ though it may be, is simple. It requires organisation, money – while the numbers are still manageable.
What is causing so much panic in Whitehall and the Quai d’Orsay is that the numbers arriving in Italy and Greece are nearing a quarter of a million this year alone, and they will eventually make their way here, to the rich North.
(Let us not forget in our insularity that Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden – Germany – are all, also, magnetic attractions for refugees, and all facing the same dilemmas. Unfortunately, although we share a common diplomatic language and treaty structures, we no longer believe in unity. It seems that countries outside Europe are also indifferent: those traditional soakers-up of migrants, Canada, Australia, the USA are no longer interest in welcoming the world’s tired, poor, huddled masses. They have achieved too comfortable a lifestyle to make room for more people like themselves.)
You find two ships – perhaps the same cross-channel ferries that Eurotunnel used to operate, but has been told to give up – and you put the Calais migrants aboard them, and you process their immigration cases properly and formally, you separate them into handy groups – some maybe for deportation, others for the cumbersome asylum process, yet others will join relatives and work in our hospitals and building-sites – and you bring them to England, while we can still absorb the numbers.
Does anyone now recall that in 1972, thousands of Asian shopkeepers and bankers and doctors were ethnically cleansed from Uganda by the near-insane dictator, the self-styled brutalist, Field Marshall Idi Amin Dada (formerly a sergeant in the British army)?
Here is what it says about that on Wikipedia:
Most of the Ugandan Indian refugees who were accounted for went to Britain, which took around 27,200 refugees. 6,000 refugees went to Canada, 4,500 refugees ended up in India and 2,500 refugees went to nearby Kenya. Malawi, Pakistan, West Germany and the United States took 1,000 refugees each, with smaller numbers emigrating to Australia, Austria, Sweden, Mauritius and New Zealand. About 20,000 refugees were unaccounted for.
So, here is proof that it is not impossible to absorb a large number of refugees.
While the Calais migrants are relatively few in number, they are also mainly fit young men who have shown that they can survive the rigours of a journey that would kill most of the legion of disappointed, sofa-bound bloggers who regard them as useless flotsam. They have risked their lives for £36 a week ‘asylum-seekers’ allowance and a shared tenement somewhere in the grimmer English regions, where they are denied the opportunity to work and obliged to live on food tokens until their appeals are heard, sometimes after years. The rewards of ‘sponging’ are not very great. We can put people to better use.
The next steps would involve setting up a series of migration ‘barrier zones’ in France, effectively catching and pushing the next wave of migrants back from the coast; housing them in purpose-built camps, to prevent them from begging in the towns, and formerly processing their applications.
This would have to be a pan-European operation, co-operatively funded and run under the auspices of the EU defence establishment, perhaps even the UN, as not all migrants want to come to Britain, ‘wonderful country’ though the Prime Minister says it is (certainly for people of his class).
It would be an opportunity for education, to counter the propaganda myth that northern European countries are an Eldorado for ‘economic’ migrants fleeing unemployment in their own countries; to stress the difficulties and suggest alternatives.
(This is again a bizarre belief about the migrants, which the British press relentlessly exploits, that they are only coming for the benefits and not for any other reason; as if any of us could tolerate living in Darfur or Syria, or Eritrea, dysfunctional countries we in the North have helped to create, whose ‘unacceptable’ regimes our arms industry helps to perpetuate, where we are likely to be imprisoned, tortured, systematically raped, beheaded or barrel-bombed with chlorine gas if we belong to the wrong tribe, religious tradition or political affiliation.)
The only solution is humanitarian.
Allowing the Calais migrants to cross the channel will give the French authorities breathing-space to manage the situation better, that has clearly overwhelmed them.
True, the crisis has been building for years. A solution previously existed, the Sangatte refugee camp, that France closed in 2002 at the request of Britain because the Blair government, with its blind Home Secretary, imagined that it was merely attracting more refugees.
We now need perhaps ten or even twenty new Sangattes, internationally funded and properly equipped, secure holding areas to house and care for and process tens of thousands of refugees fleeing war, torture, sexual violence and climate change, until they can be osmosed into the communities to which they have risked everything to come. They will need schools and shops and cooking facilities and health clinics. It will be expensive; but not as expensive as the alternatives.
There is, really, no other solution: targeting illegal ‘traffickers’ is an irrelevance, traffickers are not creating the problem; diverting international aid programmes towards efforts to keep migrants in their own countries is patently absurd, and would in any case take years to even start to have an effect. Stopping the wars in Syria and Sudan could have been done five years ago, but the opportunities were missed and Aleppo has been obliterated.
Where, exactly, are we to send that couple the BBC interviewed ‘back’ to?
Hardline policies that can’t be implemented, hand-wringing declarations, repeal of human rights legislation and an aversion to gutter press headlines are merely delaying the inevitable: we have to take these people in sometime, if only temporarily.
There is plenty of room, if we have the will.
Let’s just do it.
“Take a solitary holiday to a place that has always fascinated you. Being able to plan your own itinerary will be lots of fun. You’ll be able to shop, eat and tour where you like.” – Yahoo! Horoscope
That’s just what I’m afraid of… missing my onward connection in Paris thanks to foreseen delays on the Eurostar service. (Outside the rain is lashing down and, having drunk this evening’s wine yesterday, I have nothing to do but sit and worry about this.)
I may very well end up solitary, lost and wandering; shopping, eating and touring, hither and yon, where I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing and the authorities will pick me up and commit me to some French hospital for the terminally bewildered and confusingly Anglophone (I’ve forgotten all my hard-learned French. I’m hoping it will come back when I arrive on French soil, but the signs aren’t promising: I spent a long part of my walk with Hunzi this morning trying to remember the English word ‘ragwort’…).
Happily I’ve taken out travel insurance, for the first time in my life. It’s because the last time I made the same journey, I mislaid my return ticket and was obliged by the SNCF railway lady to purchase a new one, at full price for a single outward journey (the return part is always cheaper) with the last dribble of cash I had in my account. Then Eurostar refused to refund my money, all the more galling as when I unpacked, I found my original ticket was where I had put it for safekeeping, in the front pocket of my travel bag.
I think you’re beginning to get the picture. No, I don’t travel well nowadays, it’s why I haven’t dared go anywhere for three years.
Be that as it may, I can assure the renowned prognosticator, Mr Russell Grant, that planning an itinerary is absolutely not fun. Where does he get these ideas? Have you ever tried it?
I spent the best part of three weeks last April online every evening to Mr Google and many others, trying to figure out the best, the cheapest, the simplest way to get to a certain place at a certain time, involving some jazz, obviously, arriving where and precisely when I am expected next weekend.
I looked at possibly driving there, taking Hunzi for company – he has his own passport. But after I added the cost of fuel both ways, an overnight stop somewhere near Le Havre, to the ridiculous cost of taking the car on a Brittany ferry at this time of year, complete with compulsory extra seat-booking fee, given that I have a 600-mile round-trip from here to the south coast ferry port and back to throw into the equation; and there are two huge hell-hounds at the destination, lazing around in the sun, who would eat li’l Hunzi for breakfast, it was out of the question.
Besides, I am a rotten self-navigator, I tend to miss the turnings and waste hours driving miles in the wrong direction, trying to find a place to turn round. SatNav? Surely, you jest.
I looked at flying, but discovered that the only flights to the tiny regional airport go from cities a hundred miles away at ungodly hours of the morning. It wasn’t thus the last time I flew to this place, pleasantly arriving mid-morning: someone has changed the horaire.
The air fares were affordable, although I find it somewhat bizarre that if you fly with a bucket-airline you whizz straight to your destination, or at least within 50 miles of it, in under an hour and a quarter, for about £250 return; whereas if you fly Lufthansa it’s a 24-hour marathon with three stops en route, three more opportunities to burst a tyre on landing, that costs over twelve hundred pounds. Those Germans, eh?.
Then, several reasons not to fly occurred to me.
One, I hate flying, much as I also avoid bungee jumping and road-bike racing on the Isle of Man.
Two, my most recent GF (who is no longer my GF but is a lecturer on global warming) was most exercised about my carbon footprint.
Three, I wanted to take a guitar with me and those lovely people at Ryanair want £50 extra each way to have it smashed-up in the hold; or a second £250 return fare to book a spare seat for the instrument, which seemed a) expensive, and b) rather antisocial at this time of year, as I expect they have little trouble packing the planes twice over with ordinary humans and their sprogs, who need to get to the same holiday destination.
Four, the nearest airport where I could find a flight with an unbooked seat and where the check-in time was not five a.m. is four hours away; plus, of course, the cost of parking my car there for a week, and the possibility of losing the carpark check and not being able to find the car again, loomed large.
So I blew out the flying idea, and that’s been my undoing, because I don’t now have a guitar I can take with me anyway!
I’ve had to decide not to take one, because having bought quite an expensive one from a shop in Germany I’ve had to send it back with an electrical fault. So I could have flown, but instead ended up with the third option, that of travelling – with minimal consequences for the future of the planet – by several trains: a journey lasting, provided I can make my dash across Paris and connection with the onward service on time, two days.
You see, you have to make all those decisions three months in advance, because otherwise the bookings for this time of year, Peak Broil, rapidly fill-up and you can’t go anyway; which is another attractive option I have been considering, for two reasons.
One, I can’t find a reliable-sounding person to stay in my house and look after li’l Hunzi while I’m gone. It’s a 24/7 position with no wages, although you get to sleep for a lot of that time and the contents of the fridge are at your disposal. I’ve been offered an agency sitter, but she’s an extra £350 on top of all the rest of the enormous costs involved in spending a week away, learning to do something I am never seriously going to do.
Otherwise, I’ve gathered an assorted rabble of lovely friends who can do a bit here and there, and I’ve offered to pay expenses. But it’s not ideal; I know I shall worry, my mind will not be concentrating on the music.
Two, there’s been a bit of bother at the French end of the Channel tunnel.
Industrial inaction, of the kind only the bolshy French labour unions know how to unleash on the public in the most disruptive ways imaginable. Something about Eurotunnel deciding they don’t want, or being told by the EU competition commission not, to operate ferry services as well as their unreliable tunnel, selling the ships and sacking all the crew members. I’d probably come out on strike myself, to be honest, it’s a mite hypocritical to say so, but they are bastards, fucking with hardworking people’s fun itineraries.
Then, there are five thousand desperate migrants from Eritrea, Somalia and points south, milling around Calais, occasionally rushing the tunnel entrance, causing delays to the trains – hoping to walk, swim or hitch a ride to the land of milk and coco-pops: Britain, where they’ve been hearing all their lives that there are jobs galore and free apartments and gold bullion lining the gutters, and opportunities to go in the Big Brother house, being dished out in ecstatic welcome to all who come.
(And where they obviously haven’t heard already exists a blue-bottomed tribe of rancorous, immigrant-hating denizens of Sofaville, led by the Home Secretary, a lady who more closely resembles the Wicked Witch of the North than Mother Theresa; and by the uncompromisingly awful editor of the Daily Mail, Mr Darth ‘Dark-side’ Dacre. Ils ne passeront pas, as someone French once said.)
These two factors are conspiring to make planning my itinerary a lot less fun. The TGV trains leaving Paris will be packed with holidaymakers, it’s August, dammit, when they all flock to the coast. So the chances of getting another seat on a later train if I miss the booked connection are pretty well zero.
I shall end up walking to Calais, milling around with the Eritreans and the Somalis, trying to find a way back to sanity across the Channel. A solitary holiday seems a long way off. Why, oh why, did I make those bookings, at great expense, that I can’t now cancel?
Had I not done so, I would have the funds in my account that would make it a mere click to order the fabulous Gibson LP Premier Semi-hollow in Heritage Cherry Sunburst Perimeter which Messrs Guitar and Guitar have been pitching at me online ever since yesterday, at a one-off saving of £1,300…
As it is, I could, just about, do it – but leaving little margin for errors and sudden demands. It would require cancelling my home improvements schedule, selling everything – and, as Followers, Likers and Spammers of this, muh bogl, kno, that doesn’t always work either. (Yes, I’m still in the house. It had its third sale viewing in 22 months last week. They have become small triumphs in themselves. I spent a day on hands and knees scrubbing, but the viewer with the PhD in Geography – I had to ask why she calls herself ‘Doctor’, wouldn’t you have? – wasn’t impressed, at least she wasn’t showing it.)
Nothing I decide to do nowadays ever seems to work the way it’s supposed to, however carefully researched for fun my life’s itinerary. I seem to remember a time when I was fairly competent at the basics. Now…
By the way, it’s rəsearch, with the Schwa, not re-search. The stress falls on the second syllable.
I may have mentioned it before.
Monday a.m., Russell writes to Librans to say:
“The sooner you accept you have a limited amount of control over your life, the happier you will be. “
The Devil, they say, is in the detail. How does one define ‘a limited amount’? Limited, how, in scope – or duration?
I think we should be told!
What exactly is Pluto?
Let me say straight away that I know you know I’m not a planetary scientist. I’m not an astronomer, nor an astrophysicist like the astonishingly silly Dr Brian May, the Queen guitarist and PhD, who shot his own fox, as it were, by calling a fellow guest debating a proposed amendment to the hunting bill on Newsnight the other night a ‘lying bastard’. Someone should tell him, resorting to low abuse in a public forum, unless you’re Australian, is easily the quickest way to blow your case. Even if you happen to be right.
Indeed, I’m not a scientist of any kind, in the accepted sense of the word. I’m just a words man. And from that standpoint I can (probably fatuously) make the case for scientists as being, literally, people of knowledge (from the Latin Scire, to know.) And I guess we’re all one of those, right?
So in order to find out something I don’t know, I’m going to stop writing now and pop across the road to muh gudfriend, Ms Vicky Pedia, to look up stuff concerning the C20th psychoanalyst, Dr Immanuel Velikovsky: founder of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of the much derided ‘Worlds in Collision’ (pub. 1950). Starting with how to spell his name correctly….
Be right back.
Okay. Basically, as I understand it, IV (brevity is the soul of wit) was a Talmudic scholar and Freudian analyst, born 1894 in Russia, who settled in Berlin and then lit-out for America in 1939. Luckily for him. He knew and worked with Einstein, so he was no slouch, intellectually speaking, but he was part of that Central European ferment of slightly dotty ideologies that took hold after the First World War, that he carried with him to New York. I’m talking about guys like Rudolf Steiner, Georges Gurdjieff and PD Ouspensky.
Thanks to the PhD system, Science has increasingly focussed on narrower and narrower fields of study, so it is no surprise that scientists from tightly ringfenced disciplines would fight like cats to protect their jealously held positions against a non-specialised interloper proposing nutty theories on subjects he clearly knew nothing about. While he was writing on comparative ethnology in the period of the Pharaohs, no-one found him too objectionable. But when he started on celestial mechanics, all hell broke loose.
In 1950, after eight publishers had rejected the Ms, Macmillan in New York took on ‘Worlds in Collision’; and soon found themselves having to defend against threats of a boycott from an outraged cosmology community.
Speaking of all hell breaking loose, Velikovsky had already rewritten much of Egyptian history, rearranging the dates of whole Kingdoms and pharaohs to suit his own chronological narrative concerning the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. In ‘WiC’, he took things a stage further, by proposing that mythological beliefs and surviving accounts from many cultures around the world suggested a common history of catastrophic celestial events within the collective memory of Mankind.
His experience as a psychoanalyst, too, led him to the conclusion that humanity had esentially been traumatised by, and had suppressed race memories of, near-extinction events in the not-so distant past. Among them, was a scrambling-up of the planets in their orbits that had caused the Great Flood, the Plagues of Egypt, the Parting of the Red Sea, etcetera.
IV was proposing a completely new version of celestial mechanics based on the influence of interstellar magnetic fields, rather than on Newtonian gravity. He took as his thesis, the fact that the planet nearest the sun, Mercury rotates the ‘wrong’ way, to suggest that it may have somehow arrived in the solar system as a wayward interloper captured by the sun, before it settled into its current orbit. In passing, it had perturbed the orbits of Venus and Mars, causing them to veer dangerously past the Earth, exchanging energy fields as they passed. Hence the many legends he had found, concerning the wayward behaviour of the planetary ‘Gods’.
It was not difficult for knowledgeable cosmologists to discredit practically everything IV wrote about their subject. The physics was plainly impossible. Other disciplines followed suit: his reading of comparative mythologies was deeply suspect, selectively chosen to support his case. His Egyptology was scandalous. Geologists were already discovering that even quite minor collisions with asteroids and/or comets, plate tectonics and vulcanism could have had the calamitous effects described, making near-collisions between worlds and the discharge of enormous lightning-bolts of energy across space (think Thor, Zeus…) unnecessary as a cause of global events such as floods and extinctions. New research – the evidence of ice-cores, recent geological deposits and so on – seemed to prove he could not have been right.
IV’s theories were lumped together into an older set of discredited ideas known as ‘Catastrophism’ and, by the 1980s, almost completely discarded. IV himself died in 1979, but his ideas wouldn’t lie down, although the scientific press had long refused him a platform on which to defend himself; and he seems to have been happy to drop a lot of the more outrageous stuff when presented with reasoned arguments.
So startlingly original – for which, read utterly improbable – were his theories, so furious the reaction, so long did the arguments rage – for over 30 years – that the campaign to discredit IV became known as Velikovskyism, and was itself the subject of numerous papers and books wondering why scientists are so unkind to one another.
Since then, however, one or two cracks have become apparent in the opposition case.
It is now largely accepted that the order of dinosaurs became extinct as the result of catastrophic environmental changes brought about by a large asteroid collision. That’s one for Catastrophism, then. Evidence imprinted in rocks of past reversals of the Earth’s magnetic field remains unexplained. Also, as astronomers have been able for the past decade or so to detect planetary systems around other stars, something odd seems to be going on in our own neighbourhood.
In virtually every other case of a planetary system we know about, it seems that the bigger, gas-giant planets normally occupy the orbits nearer to their sun, while the rocky planets orbit further out. With one single exception, in our solar system it is the opposite. How did we get turned around like this? And why does Mercury spin widdershins?
It’s time to play the ‘nobody knows’ joker!
It’s lucky our planet has ended up where it is, of course, because without being this handy distance from the sun there would be no us to debate these weighty matters. The anomalous world is, of course, Pluto. What’s it doing all the way out there, hundreds of millions of miles beyond the orbit of Uranus, the most distant gas-giant, barely in range of the light of the sun, pretending to be a geologically active, rocky planetoid with – as we have now seen – features suggesting an improbable internal heat source, possibly even an internal ocean – orbiting inside the Kuyper asteroid belt, yet which (as we can now see) almost entirely lacks the familiar impact craters associated with other atmosphere-less planetoids such as our Moon?
Charon, Pluto’s main ‘moon’, is pitted with impact craters. Pluto itself however appears to be quite smooth, although its oddly marbled surface is perturbed here and there by 11,000-feet-high mountain ranges that seem to be made out of ice, and by deep fissures. So is Charon the one that is in the ‘right’ place, bombarded over millions of years by its minor neighbours, and Pluto a more recent interloper? Is Pluto in fact the ‘moon’ of Charon?
I’m going to take a three-billion-mile longshot, and bet that NASA’s New Horizons team will eventually conclude either that a) Pluto is a relatively recent arrival in its orbit, not to be classed as a large asteroid – asteroids being the remains of the rubble that originally coalesced to form the planets – but as a captured wanderer from beyond the asteroid belt; or that b), it was knocked-out of a nearer solar orbit by some close encounter with another planet – possibly Jupiter, which cosmologists are increasingly coming to believe is also in the ‘wrong’ place – and would otherwise have been somewhere in the region beyond Mars.
Or, my thought, that it is the residual core of another, would-be gas-giant, its atmosphere stripped away in a near-collision with Jupiter, whose massive gravitational pull created that four-miles-deep scar that looks like someone tried to tear Pluto in half. If Pluto had had a dense atmosphere of its own over hundreds of millions of years, you would expect to see that, like Earth, its surface has been weathered by wind and water, or some other atmospheric component; so that evidence of impact craters would indeed be minimal.
Are those ‘ice mountains’ and strange curving rills looking like a salt-lake (with other markings that are either pixel squares or the map-like traces of ancient cities dotted among them…? let’s not go there!) perhaps crystalline deposits of an ancient atmosphere, that condensed over time to form an ocean that long-ago evaporated?
Einstein is often quoted as saying ‘God does not play dice’.
No, but he possibly does enjoy a game of snooker, the old rogue.
Some people are glass-half-full optimists, and others glass-half-empty pessimists. So it is said.
Although I have bogld before, the suggestion that, actually, it is the other way around. If you always regard your glass as half-full, you are essentially nullifying the possibility that the waiter will come along soon to top it up. On the other hand, if you are fretting because your glass seems to be half-empty, you have every expectation that it will soon be filled again, once he has got over the secret joy of spitting in your soup.
Something I have also bogld about before, is my optimistic belief that civilization as we know it is drawing to a close.
Not because of the IS barbarians knocking at the gates of Rome.
Not because of global climate change warming and the associated threat of suboceanic methane clathrates unleashing fireballs to devour our agreeable coastal resorts.
Not because fifty million people are sloshing about the planet with nowhere to lay down their pathetic bundles, driven from their homes by corporatist greed, gangsterism, devastation, desertification and despair.
Not because of the gleefully anticipated global pandemic as haemorrhagic pig-bird-donkey ‘flu mutates its nasty way into the human transmission chain by courtesy of Ryanair or FlyBe.
Not because the Liberal party has been decimated in England, or because the eagerly anticipated, rapidly developing, dead-cert for a punt, so-called ‘BRIC’ nations are all slithering into the economic doo-doo at the same time, or because the cradle of our civilization, Greece, is facing economic annihilation at the hands of hard-faced Prussian bankers.
No, I fear that what faces us all is the crisis of competence in our institutions, driven by the relentlessly optimistic accumulation of – junk data.
This morning, I received in the post, a form inviting – nay, urging me to register as a voter on the Electoral Roll. It’s the exact same form I signed and returned to the local authority just a week ago, confirming that I am indeed still living, still voting, and the sole occupier of this address. Indeed, it’s the same form I returned to them last April, in advance of the General Election. No new elections are anticipated, unless one might suspect the urgency to register stems from a secret Cabinet-office plan to go to the country again to obtain a more overwhelming Conservative majority in favour of building workhouses for the poor.
(At this point my train of thought is interrupted as, once again, Microsoft in its arrogance has shut down my computer without warning to force-install more ‘updates’ to repair new holes in its crappy software. Yesterday they did the same and something went wrong and it has left me without any Search facilities, and without the lovely ad-blocker program, which I do not find anywhere now, so my screen is cluttered with annoying pop-ups from every company I have ever had the slightest dealings with, that has left its stale Cookies somewhere under the car-seat of my system. I feel with bitterness that this all merely contributes to the thread of my argument.)
Three weeks ago, the selfsame local authority wrote to me, and separately to another man living in my house, someone I have never heard of, confirming that we are no longer liable to pay Council Tax. A day or two later, I received a demand to pay £118 a month to have my one black bin-bag taken away every other week (and to pay the police to do bugger-all about the traffic speeding through my street, a 30mph zone in theory only). I sent both letters back and asked which was correct? So today I have another letter explaining that, oops, my Council Tax account was accidentally cancelled, but it hasn’t been really – only kidding! Oh, and by the way, we’re sorry for the inconvenience. (Not a word of explanation. To how many householders has this happened, why and how?)
I have also been in correspondence with a bank, concerning the six identical bound copies of a global investment management company’s four-month old half-yearly report I received two-by-two over a period of five days last week. Without going into too much detail, this constituted around 360 A4 pages of completely useless, polybagged bumf I have never asked for, of which I understand about one word in fifty, and believe in even fewer. Thanks to my Council Tax, it’s been taken to the community recycling facility for more detailed evaluation.
And the bank cheerily emailed me back to say that, as the beneficiary of a small investment fund over which I have no control, as it is all managed for me at my expense, I ‘must’ receive the information; they have no ability to prevent me from receiving it, but I could ask for it to be delivered electronically in future – as if getting seventy or eighty Spam emails a day in my Yahoo! folder promising me riches, bitches, glitches and stitches isn’t annoying enough.
And, of course, I know what will happen if I do ask for it to be sent to me electronically: I shall be invited to register. Indeed, the information cannot be sent to me unless I register as a subscriber. If I don’t register, with a username and a password, they will continue to chop down whole forests and deploy a fleet of airmail cargo planes to deliver the information against my will, on paper, in sextuplicate. So, to avoid further environmental degradation, I must register.
And as soon as I register, the investment management company’s mailing computer will decide, won’t it, against all evidence to the contrary, that I am actually interested in the fucking information? And so they will send me even more information, optimistically imagining that I can then make more informed decisions about all this disposable income I am just itching to invest with them, out of my ten grand a year State pension? I don’t think so (snarl, gnash, dribble).
And how do I know this?
The real pandemic plague infecting the entire world, that will terminate civilization as we know it, is Internet Optimism.
We are drowning in optimistic junk data.
To illustrate: I’ve just answered the phone to a hopeful man from Acorn Stairlifts.
Answering the phone is a bit of a fag, honestly, as the phone is in the living room and I am in the studio and I have to leave the studio and go across the garden and down the stairs and through the kitchen to the living room, where the phone is. I can’t afford to get a BT phone engineer to come out and extend the phone to my studio, even if I knew how. I’m not a BT customer. My own service provider (for want of a more accurate description) employs an incomprehensible man in Bangalore who will, I know from bitter experience, avenge the British Raj by making me crawl about the floor on hands and knees with a screwdriver for half an hour, testing my sockets, and then force me to rush out and buy a new telephone, just to make sure it isn’t that, and insist on testing my line several times, before evenually, possibly passing my simple request for an engineer on to BT, who still monopolise the national wiring.
If I shut the studio door, I can’t even hear the phone ring. I should shut the door, really.
I’m not that interested in answering the phone, to be honest, although sometimes I worry that it might be someone I need to speak to. The only calls I ever seem to get are either from salesmen (sometimes a computerised message, or silence) – or from optimistic punters hoping to book a table at Harry’s Bar, a watering-hole in the nearby town, which many years ago had the phone number I now have, and whose discreditable management refuses to remove it from old internet directories listing the local eateries.
In this instance, Acorn Stairlifts are just the latest in a growing number of hopeful stairlift companies that have been falsely persuaded into imagining I am just dying to buy a stairlift by a website they subscribe to, presumably at a cost-per-lead, that compares the prices of stairlifts; to which I made a perfectly innocent enquiry the other day to discover roughly how much stairlifts cost, as I have an elderly mother who might need one, should I someday have to force her to come live with me, given that we have nothing left to sell to pay for a care home.
In the metaphor-rich hierarchy of sales lead generation, my enquiry counts as pretty cool. In fact, I should say it has not yet started to thaw from deep frozen. When and if I do decide to acquire a stairlift, I can ask for one myself. I don’t need help.
But the emails and calls come rolling in just the same; all because, in order to obtain a rough estimate of the approximate someday cost of fitting my stairs with a lift, just so I know what else I might be in for if I have to convert my tiny cottage upstairs to accommodate a feisty, hard-drinking, heavy-smoking nonagenarian with all her fearsome marbles intact, I have had to pay for the information with useless data. Setting up an account complete with a username and a password, accepting having Cookies plastered all over my computer, giving the implicit (but as it happens, wholly incorrect) impression that I am deeply interested in stairlifts.
eBay, too, continues to email me news of exciting bargain opportunities, eight years after I was made to register in order to make a bid for an item on behalf of my then employer. Someone somewhere had that software you can get, that puts in a spoiling bid in the last millisecond, and I have not deigned to use eBay since. Likewise, Facebook imagines I must still be interested in Liking stuff, making invisible Friends or whatever, posting incriminating selfies, even though I registered years ago only under duress and used their site just the once to try to contact someone I knew, whose email address was firmly locked up in Mr Zuckerberg’s nightmare world.
And, for the same reason, I am still receiving annual ‘renewal’ reminders from online motor insurance companies I have never heard of, seven years after I foolishly dreamed one evening about possibly acquiring a pre-loved Jaguar car. I Googled a comparison website and clicked on Motor Insurance, only to see what it might cost to insure it. Since that fateful evening at the office, every insurance company in the world has presumably been paying Go Compare! a small fee for the entirely bogus information that your poor old Uncle Bogler owns a by-now decrepit Jag whose insurance policy is about to run out…. When in fact I bought a Mazda, whose annual MOT renewal date is heralded with pointless regularity by reminder texts and emails I get from a chain of fast-fit garages I used to patronise, even though I sold it again two years later – and they know that, because I have told them several times.
It’s just junk data that is relentlessly accumulating, clogging up every sales management database, and cannot ever be erased. Computers will dumbly continue to act on the initial data even if it is patently false, generating more costly and annoying muddle; in part because unscrupulous list-brokers hold huge, unwashed files of aged names and long-gone addresses, and sell them on to witless marketing managers.
We learn, do we not, that senile dementia is caused by the brain clogging up with inefficiently processed proteinaceous gunge. The internet as a form of mass communication may be only 25 years old, but it is already succumbing to the fashion for Alzheimer’s. I suspect that possibly 90% of the data on the internet may be just landfill, but there is seemingly no getting rid of it.
And the barbarians are knocking at the gates.
Several stories in the news over the past few days have indicated that the media is an organism that feeds exclusively on garbage.
I’m especially exercised today by an attack on the personable former Greek finance minister, my old school chum Yanis Varoufakis. Perhaps unwisely, some time ago when his ego was at the zenith of its midlife crisis, he allowed a magazine to photograph him and his agreeable young wife in a relaxed mood together ‘at home’. We’ve all done that, haven’t we?, and he possibly regretted it afterwards, when the Twitterati, who are about as intelligent as their name suggests, launched a vituperative attack on this ‘white-wine socialist’ – whine being the operative word.
I can personally see nothing in the photographs to suggest that Mr Varoufakis is not a modestly well-published academic economist enjoying a modern, middle-class, academic lifestyle in Athens along with many others of his meritocratic, educated, cosmopolitan background. There are certainly no signifiers of undue privilege, elitism or corruption in the images I have been shown; just a normal, pleasant midtown apartment and a glass of the usual, probably awful, Greek plonk on the balcony, with added pine cones. He travels to work and back, like most Greeks, on a motor scooter. He did not have time to enjoy the benefits of office, nor does he strike me as the sort who would.
Envious mention of his view of the Parthenon, a feature designed especially by the Varoufakis’s personal decorator, conveniently ignores the fact that you can see the bloody thing for miles around, it’s on a hill and floodlit at night. (If you miss it there, luckily there’s more in London.) Of an infinity pool, private zoo, a garage stuffed with vintage Bugattis, bunga-bunga in the jacuzzi and scurrying servants illegally plucked from sinking Syrian coffin-ships in the Aegean, there is no sign.
Are the Twits suggesting that maybe, Mr Tsipras should have employed someone more downtrodden and déclassé, a lumpen hoyden randomly selected from among the workless rural poor, a busboy; somebody perhaps dragged from the pauper’s hospital or from some downtown Piraeus sailors’ bar, to negotiate his ludicrous but engaging demands with the awesomely grey and invisible Eurocrat, Heer Dijsselbloem (who, I see, despite lacking sufficient vowels, has just been re-elected to some important office. Well done, Jeroem, it was worth crucifying an entire member country of your own club and giving all those downbeat press conferences to keep the old career on track.)
Another report reports that ‘scientists’, that faintly disturbing alien race, have ‘predicted’ – these are presumably the kind of scientists that examine the smoking entrails of sacred mongoose for clues to the nature of, er, nature – a ‘mini ice-age’ arriving in fifteen years’ time.
This is basically a climatologist at Nottingham University or somewhere who has ventured to suggest (or at least not denied) we’re about due for a return of the Maunder Minimum, a cyclical reduction in the normal 11-year cycles of solar radiation that (possibly – there’s no proof) strikes every few hundred years and is thought to cause more severe winters in the northern hemisphere.
Surely our Meteorological Office, with its most advanced computer array in all the known world (but not a quantum computer? Ha! Send for the man with the budget!), still has difficulty telling me what the weather is doing outside my curtains this morning, let alone is able to predict a sharp frost fifteen years from now? Ah, it’s only a model, we learn.
Taking this one, not very controversial prediction as their starting point, in order to make the story more appealing to climate-change trolls, the news outlet has added a) a photograph of humans trudging miserably through trackless wastes of snow; b) a reminder of how, from 1645 to 1715, the Thames – a shit-filled sewer as I remember – helpfully froze over every winter, enabling the retail community to promote their wares imaginatively on ice; c) a suggestion that the fine-grained timber used in making the famous Stradivarius violins might have come from trees stunted by Maunder and his frost, and many other signifiers of speculative bollocks designed to frighten us all into signing-up for another dual-fuel energy contract, fixed for 80 years.
There followed the predictable outpouring of mental effluent from Sofaville, regarding the absolute deniability of ‘global warming’, a notorious conspiracy of scientists and tax-eaters, in the face of a marginal possibility of more cold weather on the way. What, is it not going to get hotter after all? But you said! Sneer, yarp. When are these obnoxious individuals with their PhDs in shovelling intellectual night-soil going to learn to shut up? What cataclysmic disasters will it take? Could someone not befriend them, if only for half an hour?
Will they ever be convinced that their disposable way of life is not sustainable, any more than is Mr Varoufakis’, now he has been forced to make way for a new finance minister, a man impressively called Euclid who confects even more elegant English prose than he does? Why can they not simply accept that things like the weather do not proceed in perfectly straight lines, and that 98% of all mongoose entrails can’t be wrong?
Do they not realise that migrants are battering at their doors and dying on their shit-strewn urban concrete frontages precisely because the weather’s going pear-shaped everywhere south of Calais? And that colder winters producing a blip on the otherwise rising temperature curve will only push up the demand for energy supplies we can’t meet from renewables (another tax scam), encouraging everyone to spew even more CO2 into the fragile atmosphere, causing the weather to go even wonkier?
Write out 500 times: “Weather is not the same as climate”. It’s got very little to do with local heatwaves, typhoons and cold snaps, except that weather is clearly becoming more extreme with every passing year.
As are the absurd stories being pumped out daily in the garbage press, to terrify us all; yet which continue to doubt the reality of climate change.
But it must be just a phase, everything will return to 1954 normal when our Nigel becomes PM.
Postscriptum: The Day After Yesterday (17 October, 2015)
Currently the Philippine islanders are again battening down the hatches for a supertyphoon forecast to dump two feet of rain during the weekend; southeast China is still mopping-up after last week’s; southern Californians are clearing-up after their communities were submerged in massive third-world-style mudslides; Phoenix, Arizona has been swallowed by a huge duststorm; Oregon is fighting four major wildfires and numbers of people have been dying in flash floods in southern Europe; Indonesia is choking in the smog of forest fires set by palm oil farmers. The north Pacific has warmed by two degrees. The good news is, unless you’re in the far north of Canada or Siberia, there’s not much snow around.
Yes, it’s another El Nino year – predicted to be one of the worst on record. Must be a conspiracy. Or a coincidence.
Musiem tour guide
motoronics ltd – Aberystwyth
This job is for anyone highly interested in history science and technology, to visit musiems castles and historic sights, also exibitions where possible, the correct candidate will have the role of working as a team to research topics such as transport through time and log to create portfolio for later communications, the job is part time temporary role and its part paid & part voluntary, will also suite student who may allready taken the subjects as above for studies, transport and travel expenses will be provided, if you would like some fun or creative learning with weekends out then this is the placement you need.
A little while ago I developed a small Post on the theme of an online recruitment ad I had spotted in my inbox, for some rain-sodden enthusiast to log all the different makes of car entering and leaving the town of Aberystwyth, in West Wales, on a part-paid, part-voluntary (for which read ‘less than minimum wage if you calculate it by the hour’) basis.
I was first of all outraged that an illiterate troupe of monkeys could have been engaged to write such a piece of vertiginously ungrammatical, poorly spelled and punctuated copy.
I was happy to point out that the road on which this highly interested individual was to be stationed is in fact the A487 and not, as claimed, the ‘a470’ (sic), which is in a different (though not too distant) county. I poked fun, too, at their inability to tell the (very obvious and substantial) differences between words such as ‘suit’ and ‘suite’, ‘sites’ and ‘sights’.
And then this morning, I found the ad above posted to my online bulletin board by the Indeed dotcom recruitment empire, on behalf of motoronics ltd, the people who put the word ‘moronic’ in, and took out the initial cap. letters from, er, motoronics ltd.
Clearly, these are clues. There is something going on here, of which I (and the public at large) are unaware. I suspect no human agency is involved, or can be. I feel sure that, at long last, I have uncovered genuine and irrefutable evidence of an alien conspiracy.
Decode the unforgettable wording of this plangent request for a one-man team to visit castles and ‘musiems’ (I initially read it as ‘Muslims’, sorry, carry on…) and you come to the worrying realisation that it is pretty much the same ‘role’ as in the previous ad, a role which will be suite-ed to the correct candidate: some indigent student with an enthusiasm for ‘history science’ and an excitement for logging things ominously for ‘later communications’, only this time in an historical context, rather than beside the coast road; one who has perhaps already made a study of transport through time… yet who sometimes finds it impossible to visit ‘exibitions’.
Could we be talking actual Time Travel here?
Is this matching pair of advertisements perhaps a phishing expedition from the future? Employing an example of the strange language in which our descendants centuries from now, part-human, part-Apple, will be communicating with one another?
Is someone trying to reach us with a message of vital importance for all Mankind? (Feminists look away now, ‘Man’ in this context does not imply the thing you would like us to express our outrage about.)
What else but a projection from the future ‘motoronics ltd’ corporation can explain the unusual inconsistency of spelling, that enables a man (I am assuming it is a man, and not a heap of groaning baboons with keyboards, who have been at the fermented fruit again) to spell ‘museum’ as if he had never visited one, or ‘allready’ as if the letter ‘l’ was on sale this week; yet who can correctly man-up to more difficult words, such as ‘placement’, ‘portfolio’ and ‘temporary’?
The assumption – indeed, the only explanation – must be that archaic concepts like ‘musiems’ and ‘exibitions’ (sic) have fallen out of fashion by the year 2315, so that no-one knows any longer what they were (accounting for the occasional impossibility of researching them) or how the words were once spelled. Management-consultant chimps, however, have taken over the planet; so that ‘placements’ and ‘portfolios’ remain not only commonplace, but essential elements of the new national curriculum.
In my previous Post on this theme, I may have mentioned two salient facts: one, I have been a working composer and editor of texts for much of the last century; and two, I have been largely unemployed and otherwise completely unable to find a job utilising my literary skills for the past four years and counting. (Did I mention that I also suffer from depression and have a prostate gland the size of an orange, that gets me up several times in the night? Possibly not for a while.)
Only this, muh clandestine underground survivor resistance bogl, is keeping the flame of true words alive.
Do you sometimes feel you are living in the wrong time?
I thot not.
Are there really such things as UFOs?
In 45 years of consciously looking, I’ve never seen one. But they seem awfully popular just now.
Well, of course. UFO is a pilots’ acronym, it stands for ‘Unidentified Flying Object’. Once a UFO becomes an ‘Identified’ flying object, it ceases to have any special significance. Virtually anything seen in the sky can go unidentified, until there is an explanation for it.
What a UFO is not, necessarily, is evidence of visitation by aliens, either from other worlds or from our own future world. No UFO has ever been officially identified as being from another world, or from the future. As I go on to explain, there are classes of these phenomena that fit within a range of normal events.
Many silly, credulous or malicious people want to make this connection with The Other, however. Humanity has a deep-seated and desperate longing for contact with a higher power, that overrides commonsense rationality. Psychologically it is a feeling of unfocussed disempowerment that probably relates to our early relationships with our parents. We want to be nurtured, to be watched over. We yearn for someone infinitely more powerful and capable to look after our needs.
It is unsurprising that the world’s three great religions – I exclude Buddhism, as it is not strictly speaking a religion – of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, arose as monotheisms (belief in one all-powerful divinity) in desert countries. They represent the triumph of the life-giving but vengeful Sun-god over polytheistic (pagan) belief systems that mainly arose in northern climes, investing natural phenomena with spiritual powers.
(Sadly, Christianity eliminated that other famous solar cult in meso-America, the Aztec.)
The idea of alien visitation is attractive, but statistically difficult. Quantum physics offers the uneducated the exciting possibilities of faster-than-light travel, ‘action at a distance’ (the habit of fundamental particles to be observed in two different places at once), ‘wormholes’, extra dimensions, parallel universes and so on, as clever ways of avoiding the obvious problem of distance. Our nearest galactic neighbour is four light years from the sun (a light year being the rather long distance light travels in one Earth year; no propulsion system even theoretically invented approaches anything like the speed of light.
If life had evolved on as many as one in a billion planets throughout the observable universe, making the odds against winning the Lottery look positively inviting, even so 99 per cent of it is so far away, it would hardly be worth bothering to look us up. Only immortals could contemplate spending a thousand years aboard a spaceship, just to get here. For what? To counter this, it has been suggested that aliens live in hidden cities on the Moon, or Mars, or Titan – even under the North Pole. Or that They are already here! (There is a point at which the desire for an uber-dad shades into paranoia.)
Then, life as we know it takes many forms. Only one of the millions of evolutionary steps life has taken on Earth in the past billion years has ever, so far as we know, developed science-based technology to the point where it can send an unmanned probe to rendezvous with a comet, or with Pluto – a mysterious planetoid it has taken our little ‘New Horizons’ explorer ten years to reach, although it is far from the most distant object in our own solar system. Human evolution and history have progressed only by fits and starts. The element of chance introduced by evolution and history increases the odds against there being other civilizations out there… well, astronomically. (Paradoxically, I agree, it also shortens them. Luck can break either way.)
The one relatively solid piece of evidence we have of an actual alien visitation lies buried in the Old Testament accounts concerning the appearance to Moishe (Moses) “in a burning bush” of the enigmatic character known to us as Yahweh, who somehow becomes identified as the embodiment of the solar deity of the desert-dwelling Hebrews. This is an entity that makes some very strange demands on his initially unwilling hosts, including that Aaron, Moses’ brother who is appointed as the go-between, has to wear a protective coat made from gold – which, as we know, is an effective shield against gamma radiation.
Yahweh is in some accounts attended by the Eloim, the ‘Shining Ones’ – now equated with angels, the so-called Fall of Satan (God’s favourite angel) being to do with forbidden cross-breeding with the natives; he requires a high-carbon diet (all his ‘meat’ offerings have to be served well-done) and he has access to significantly higher technologies – the ability to fly, again on a column of fire; to ‘smite’ the enemies of Israel with what sound remarkably like battlefield nuclear weapons, and to give modern dietary advice.
I mean, what would you think, if you were intellectually free to think anything you liked? Early science-fiction? Even science-fiction has to be based within the canon of evolving scientific and technological ideas, it doesn’t invent stories entirely in a vacuum of ignorance. Certainly, then, the appearance of a superbeing out of a burning bush must count as early evidence of a Close Encounter of the Third Kind, however much the story may have gained in the telling.
And that’s the problem with UFOs. Nobody believes the explanations either way! If you’re a sceptic, all UFOs can be explained, identified. There just isn’t conclusive evidence yet. But what we know of the universe will explain them away rationally and sensibly. If you’re a believer in alien interventions, the absence of any more rational explanation must imply a supernatural or other-worldly cause. Anyone trying to offer a less-than-perfect account must be hiding the truth!
What are the main categories of explanation?
I’ve spent the morning watching the sky on our walk through the park. It’s almost a perfect day, apart from two things. It’s been really busy up there, dozens of airline flights bearing holidaymakers messily westwards. Their vapour trails have been dispersing in the wind at 30,000 feet, there’s a thin veil of manmade cirrhostratus covering the entire sky, cutting down the sunlight (but also helping with the global warming problem).
And below that, dozens of tiny, fluffy white clouds are swarming around in small shoals, that I identify thanks to Wikipedia as the dispersing remains* of altocumulus floccus. Small clouds formed around ice crystals can move and change shape very quickly relative to other clouds, depending on varying windspeed and direction at different altitudes. The angle of the sun may give these evanescent microcrystalline structures the appearance of shining lights, that may be seen within other clouds they’re passing through; while they sometimes seem to be flying in formation.
The angle of the sun again is key to the observation of shining lights in the evening sky, that are not stars. Down here, it’s getting dark. But high above you, the rays of the setting sun are still blazing across the sky, brightly illuminating anything in their path. Your ‘moving bright light’ could be a distant aircraft, a helicopter, a weather balloon – small clouds, high-flying birds – that are reflecting sunlight and not projecting their own light source, as you want to imagine.
2 Atmospheric distortion
I was reading an account today of many people sighting a UFO last week in the Pacific sky off California. Hey guys, smell the coffee… didn’t we just have a close planetary alignment between Venus and Jupiter?
Venus accounts for a lot of UFO sightings, it’s the third brightest object in the sky after the Moon. The Earth’s atmosphere gets thicker and dirtier the closer it gets towards the surface of the planet, looking toward the horizon puts the maximum amount of atmosphere between you the observer and the far distance. Think how the moon looks really big coming up, then resolves into something less scary the greater the inclination. Density of air and pollution haze create different kinds of optical distortion, from green moonrises to the desert mirages beloved of cartoonists (you’re seeing stuff over the horizon); while the heat of the sun causes the air to dance about, creating an illusion of movement.
3 Observer disorientation
…may possibly account for the ‘line of lights that rearranged itself into a pattern’ phenomenon. Ever seen fishing boats working at night? If it’s dark enough you probably can’t tell where the sea ends and the horizon begins, especially from a clifftop.
4 Shaky camerawork
Disorientation also accounts for apparently anomalous movement of objects when filmed. I spent five years in fulltime education, studying (amongst other things to do with Photography, Film and Television) the physics of optical lenses. Cheap camera lenses are getting better but there’s a list of the types of distortion you can get with them, from barrel-distortion (wonky round the edges) to lens-flare and tiny flaws that can be made worse with a little sunlight hitting across them at an oblique angle.
Tracking an object across the sky is a skill few possess: nearer objects seem to move faster than distant ones, look bigger. Watch a tree or a phone pole you’re passing in a car, when you go round a bend… oops, where’s it gone? It wasn’t over there before! Cameras are dumb, they can only see what you are pointing them at. They can’t put things in context, relative to parts of the scene they can’t see. You can.
Camera movement can create the illusion that it’s the object that is moving. The further away an object is, the harder it is to track it, especially on full zoom. A long lens will flatten the perspective (planar distortion) and make it harder to keep the subject in focus. The low resolution of cameraphones equates to the low resolution of high-speed film emulsions: images are grainier, details lost.
So what, you ask? So, confronted with poor quality, partial images containing little information, what does your brain do? Right, it makes stuff up. It’s how brains work. Be glad of it: without it, your ancestors would’ve been eaten by half-glimpsed tigers.
5 Things in the sky
And, let’s face it, there are things you can see in the sky. You can make your own list.
Many UFO ‘sighting’ photos are risible fakes: anyone can chuck a frisbee or a metal dish up in the air while your mate takes a grainy snap, hey presto, an alien visitation. The famous Roswell incident followed publication of a photo taken by a farmer in New Mexico of a UFO that is quite clearly the pair of the circular wing mirror glimpsed in a press photo of the farmer proudly posed next his truck, the metal disc suspended by fishing line from an overhead cable.
You can also see that he is desperately, dirt poor. ‘UFO farming’ is a way of life for some.
Who would want to be seen to be so gullible as to believe it was a visiting spacecraft?
6 Plane sailing
Other UFOs have been identified as experimental aircraft. Okay, the world’s airforce boffins have tried all kinds of shapes, ‘fly-by-wire’ computer technology in recent years has enabled them to virtually forget the old concept of aerodynamics that demanded a plane looked like a cigar-tube with wings, nowadays they can fly a brick. The world is a crowded place and it’s getting harder to keep these things secret from the public gaze.
So let’s not automatically assume the authorities are covering-up the arrival of the ambassador from the planet Zarg. Sometimes it’s better for them to put it out that you’ve seen just that, knowing no-one will believe them!
7 Things in Photoshop
Yes, you can fake anything using what is now highly clever freeware. In my day, you had to pay through the nose for this stuff, now there’ll be a ‘Create Your Own UFO’ phone app. Signs of fakery can still be detected, however. Shadows not falling at quite the same angles, trees and buildings looking a bit transparent, clouds not looking to be quite where you expect them, mismatched shading… effects you recognise from Steven Spielberg movies.
8 In the mind?
Arguably Britain’s most notorious UFO sighting took place in December 1980. Rendlesham forest was just off-base for Cold-War American airmen stationed at Woodbridge and Bentwaters, in Suffolk. So seriously was the report taken that John Burroughs, one of the first servicemen to observe the phenomena was subsequently granted an invalidity pension after claiming the experience had given him PTSD. You have to be pretty seriously damaged to get anything out of the military.
Strange lights and sounds, at least two different ‘craft’ coming and going, beams of light, a mysterious orange ball, marks on the forest floor, increased radioactivity levels and even two alien-looking creatures, one of whom had a ‘silent conversation’ with RAF Wing Commander Gordon Williams were observed over a period of days by a number of US servicemen and ‘disaster preparedness personnel’ who went to investigate, until the whole affair was locked down by the Ministry of Defence.
The airbase was a store for nuclear weapons, and a technician who investigated underground installations in the location of the sightings reported finding old cables still carrying internet signals – unexpectedly dating from the early 1980s, but not technologically impossible, as the US military first created the internet.
Could the whole incident have been a diversionary tactic dreamed up by the KGB to cover their espionage activities in the forest? An elaborately staged theatrical event, cooked up either as a defensive measure to cover genuine secret activity, or by the kind of bored and mildly inebriated country yokels who sneak out at night to make crop circles?
Could there be another explanation, to do with experiments we now know about, testing weaponised LSD on military personnel? Or was it an outbreak of the same kind of crowd-sourced hysteria experienced by C17th French nuns, brought on by Cold War paranoia? (I’d go crazy, sitting on enough U235 to vapourise Russia…)
How the hell should I know?
I’m just a rational sceptic waiting my chance to be bogld.
*Later observation shows I was wrong about the little clouds dispersing, by about 4 p.m. they had all joined up (see photo, copyright me 2015) and now it looks like rain! (I hope not, I have an outdoor concert to perform in, in about an hour.)
What has happened to all the bees?
Their drowsy hum in the meadow grass used to be the stock summer accompaniment to the thwack of ball on willow and the drone of Dan Maskell reporting the early exit of yet another British tennis hopeful at Wimbledon.
I’ve seen fewer than a dozen bees out this year, and it’s already July. Several of those were dead, their little furry corpses lying curled and dried-out on the footpaths through the exurban space that passes for a park in our seaside town.
And I’m constantly being emailed to ask me to sign petitions calling on the government not to overturn the European ban on the family of pesticides known as neo-nicotinoids, in the face of angry buzzing from the agripoisons industry and the always despicably self-interested Farmers’ Union.
Neonics have been implicated in the collapse of commercial bee colonies and a worrying reduction in the wild population. Research suggests that complex chemical compounds accumulating in bees from a range of crop sprays are causing them to lose their famous sense of direction, which prevents them from foraging or flying back to the hive with food. Weakened, they fall prey to more lethal viruses borne by proliferating mites.
There’s clearly something more complicated going on than just pesticide poisoning, as the industry argues that their own research has shown no direct effect on bees from neonics in the doses prescribed. If anyone should want to save the bees, it would be the farmers whose crops they pollinate for free.
As it happens, I live in a small part of the world where there is no arable farming, or very little. It’s sheep country. And here on the edge of town people have gardens, and we’re a yard or two away from open countryside, hill pasture, much of which is being allowed to revert to scrub, and from the undeveloped valley floor with its dense copses and riverbanks and marshy heathland vivid with wildflowers.
There is no intensive farming here whatever, unless you count the open savannahs of the sports clubs, cricket and rugby grounds, where some preventative spraying does go on in early summer. An enlightened local authority, too, is responsibly maintaining meadow grassland along road verges and on traffic roundabouts, and planting trees.
You would imagine therefore that our local bee population would be virtually unaffected, certainly by the kind of intensive crop spraying that used to put our son in hospital with asthma every summer, when we lived and had our little smallholding in the midst of a 300-acre industrialised wasteland of acid-yellow rape.
And you might think that the proliferating wildflowers of many kinds would offer them plenty of fodder. Yet there are no bees, or almost none, to be seen. What is going on?
To quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “The times are out of joint”.
My theory, for what it’s worth, is that the flowers and their specialised pollinators are continually missing one another at the critical times when they need to arrive together. This would be due to the disrupted pattern of the weather as our climate appears to be changing.
Most of Nature can cope with minor annual variations in light, temperature and rainfall. But those factors critical to growth and reproduction have begun to oscillate a little more wildly in recent decades. Spring, for instance, is said to be arriving in Britain earlier each year and is now three weeks earlier on average than forty years ago.
This year, I have noticed that, for some reason perhaps due to last year’s wild and windy but warm winter (or perhaps due to rising CO2?), the tree cover is the most densely foliated I can remember ever seeing it, the scrub vegetation impassably jungly; yet the wildflowers, probably due to a long, cool, dry spell in March-April, have emerged very late, only in the last two weeks of June, in the sort of profusion that would guarantee sufficient variety to feed all the insects that depend on them.
Light levels, too, may have dropped in a Spring when there has been more volcanic activity around the globe than in most years; and un-civil aviation continues to cross-hatch the sky with vapour trails freighting sooty particulates into the stratosphere.
In other words, until the last few weeks there’s been almost nothing for the bees to eat. And now, this week, while most of England has sizzled in 90-degree temperatures, here in the West it’s been cool and cloudy, and it’s been raining all morning, so the bees won’t be flying today either.
Normally, they would survive these minor irritations; but add to them, the probability that wild bee populations are now already dangerously reduced, it may take time for their numbers to build up again, assuming no further environmental stress is inflicted on the survivors; which we can’t. Is there another possible factor causing stress disorders in bees?
Facebook pioneer, Mark Zuckerberg, has announced this week a plan to introduce a parallel service of mobile telephony, using “invisible” lasers beaming down from satellites, to improve his social media coverage in the parts where land-based communications haven’t yet reached. More high-frequency irradiation is all we need.
We live now in an electronic soup of low-energy radio waves emitted at all frequencies by innumerable devices. The cumulative energy of electromagnetic radiation emitted by all this communications technology is experimentally sufficient to power domestic electrical devices when captured, literally, from the air.
Again, the “industry” research has concluded that its by-product – radiation – must be harmless; yet we also believe and warn, especially children, that continual proximity to your cellphone might induce brain cancer.
All I can add is that it is unreasonable to suppose there can be no effect.
Electromagnetic radiation is only apparently safe at certain frequencies; at other points on the spectrum we know it can injure and kill, cook food, prove medically useful, and see through solid objects. We know, because we do those things with it.
Is it too far-fetched to think that the smaller and more delicate a neural organism is, the more vulnerable it becomes to disruption by radiation, inducing altered behaviours and perceptions?
Alterations that might indeed threaten the extinction of a uniquely susceptible – ecologically irreplaceable – and economically invaluable species?
Many years ago, a bumblebee smashed into my car’s windscreen. It set me calculating (I’m a bit OCD) how many bees might be killed by cars on British roads, given the number of vehicle registrations (36 million +), the average mileage driven (about 7,000 a year) and the total mileage of British roads (about 250,000), if each driver kills only one bee every five miles….
Millions of bees are killed by cars every summer.
The better news is, there are quite a few bees of varying sizes out foraging in the sunshine today. It helps that my magnificent privet hedge has finally decided to flower, it’s always an attraction for the gatherers.
It doesn’t help however that today, the parks department has decided it’s a good day to send a man with a noisy tractor and a topper to cut down the wildflower meadow boundaries around the river. I imagine they have a date they do it on every year, regardless of what’s actually happening on the ground.
It might also make some sense to seed the strips with bee-friendly wildflowers in the Spring, rather than leave it to Mother Nature; who, as we know, prefers tall grasses, thistles, dock and (highly poisonous) ragwort in her garden. I’m not sure we can leave her to make the decisions anymore.
What are we to do with the Calais migrants?
I’ve just wasted twenty minutes being deeply sarcastic to Commenters on a news site, who are all of the ‘send them back to Africa and if they won’t go, shoot them’ mindset.
There are many more abusive and fearful British dimwits online today than there are migrants in Calais, making them see sense is mission impossible. Most don’t even know that Africa is made up of several different countries, or that there are civil wars and insurrections and murderous regimes creating genuine refugees seeking asylum from a swathe of countries from Libya to Syria.
All they know is that these tragic people are black, foreign, unskilled labour, sexually potent, probably Muslims and somehow threatening to “our” way of life. How come they can afford to pay people smugglers thousands of dollars to get them here, but they can’t afford to live in their own countries? Not only that, but they are only here to claim “benefits” funded by the British taxpayer. (Somehow I doubt that many of these barely-sentient creatures texting from their piss-stained, sale-bargain sofas are themselves paying much tax, but we’ll pass over that.)
So they hate them, with fruity hate speech, and no-one does anything to stop them.
I’m sort of worried myself, as I’ve paid a slew of money to book a Eurostar train to Paris later this month and the Channel tunnel has had to be closed several times in recent weeks, either because desperate migrants have stormed the entrance or because striking French dock workers have lit fires on the line.
It’s not a very worthy thought, and possibly not far enough behind those who are claiming the migrant problem is creating shortages in the supermarkets and we’re going to be deprived of our right to guzzle horsemeat fatburgers and sliced white bread unless we send all the something-or-other Muslims back to Bongoland now.
The delays and even, it is reported, physical threats to “British” lorry drivers (there is no other kind in what passes for the mind of the British media) are clearly having a costly effect on the freight economy, both ways. Although it is odd that Calais residents with migrants camped almost in their back gardens all report that they feel no threat and that the migrants are generally polite and well behaved, according to our media British lorry drivers are worried that they might soon be being killed. (Begging the question, who will drive the lorry?)
Frankly, I don’t understand why the migrants are so desperate to get to Britain, which is a vile country, cold and wet and full of bigoted, uneducated and envious little minds spewing their hatred of humanity from behind net curtains, from the dispatch box of the House of Commons, egged on by a press so unprincipled and high-smelling that you would not give it a room for the night in your dog-kennel.
(Postscriptum: I refer of course also to the removal by security guards of its entire cleaning staff for presuming to ask that they be paid the London living wage, which is now even official Tory Government policy, while the Directors of this brilliant con-trick of flogging dubious art crap to vastly wealthy idiots, Sotheby’s, were merrily cavorting among the roses at salubrious and hideously expensive corporate summer watering-holes such as Ascot, Glyndebourne and Wimbledon. Not only that, but these well-stuffed, silver-tongued artroaches actually threatened to have the cleaners charged with criminal offences associated in their somewhat distorted worldview with upsetting the smooth running of their vastly lucrative transnational fleecing operation. Traditional British values at their best, have the servants flogged. Fuck them, very much.
Oh yes, sorry.)
Nor do I understand why the migrants all head for Calais, which is already a bit of a dive, thanks to the British ‘booze-cruise’ trade (which will have to end when the Farageistas drag us out of the EU and Kentish publicans will have to pay massive customs duty again on their campervans full of cheap Spanish Cava and noxious fags, ha-ha!) when there are six or seven alternative Channel ports in France alone with services running to Britain. I suppose they don’t have maps or information with which to make a rational decision.
But we are talking about only three thousand people at present, who could easily be accommodated on a dedicated transport ship where they could be sanitised prior to the Chosen Ones making the crossing.
If the UK government had taken a realistic approach five years ago and set up some kind of system to process these migrants formally, instead of paying the French to let us bottle them up in Calais in unfunded and ad hoc tented shanty communities from where they understandably make persistent attempts to escape, we would not be in this mess now.
It was said (and this is where my remark about the British being a little people with smaller minds seems justified) that maintaining the old refugee centre at Sangatte would only encourage more of “them” to come, and the French caved in and closed it. It never occurred to British officials – or possibly it did and they are just the most dreadful cynics – that a quarter of a million refugees might cross the Mediterranean in 2015 and that, having to go somewhere, many of them might arrive in Calais and, finding no food or shelter, might behave in desperate ways we like even less.
The UK in its generosity has admitted fewer than 200 of the two million externalised refugees from the Syrian war; arguing that chucking £700m aid money at charities operating in Turkey, Jordan and the Lebanon, countries that between them are hosting 97% of the refugee population, is as good as the same thing. It isn’t. Forty years ago, we managed to take in sixty thousand Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin; and in 1956, tens of thousands of Hungarians fleeing the Soviet invasion; and after the Second World War, tens of thousands of Polish refugees who had fought with the free Polish army. Now, we have an official policy of hating foreigners so badly, we daren’t let them in even on temporary visas, unless they are guaranteed to be earning £35 thousand a year (I never have, but then I was born here).
(Postscriptum #2: I actually heard a Government minister on the radio the other day say that, of course, it was great that the best brains in the world should want to come to Britain’s wonderful, rapidly-going-downhill universities to be properly educated, but they must go home again afterwards… I love politicians who can manage such feats of joined-up long-term strategic thinking at breakfast-time, don’t you?)
Legally, wherever refugees first present their papers is the country that is obliged to take them in, even if only on a temporary basis. The problem being, many have escaped war zones with no papers; while the European countries where they arrive are refusing to accept their papers in order to be able to move the problem on somewhere else.
So it’s not really surprising if Britain should feel resentment at being treated as the dumping-ground of last resort, were it not for the fact that we are refusing to let them in anyway, and therefore have nothing concrete to resent. Thus while their (mostly) brothers rot in Calais, a trickle of illegals manages to successfully make it across the Channel, clinging to the undersides of vehicles or risking suffocation in containers and the backs of lorries (can the owners not put locks on the doors? What is going on there?). Some have even died trying to swim the 23 miles.
Surely that’s a worse, less containable problem than ensuring these poor people are treated with dignity and due process? Or need we take away even their humanity, to make ourselves feel better in a troubled and overcrowded world?