Polling finds that “20 percent of Americans would deny Muslims who are American citizens the right to vote.” While 68 percent of Republican voters support separate internment for the children of migrants at the border. – Washington Post report.
“You’d have to invoke quantum theory to explain it.”
Son of Novichok
A couple living in Amesbury, Wiltshire (eight miles from Salisbury, scene of the nerve agent attack on Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia last March), Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, were taken to hospital on Saturday night, unconscious, with a mystery illness at first assumed to be a drug overdose.
“The police and government … said they were keeping an open mind…. By the end of the evening, the police announced the tests showed it was Novichok, a type of nerve agent originally developed in Russia.” – BBC News
Someone had recognized the symptoms from the last incident. As it just happened to be the same hospital that saved the lives, just about, of the Skripals. And just up the road, boffins at the chemical weapons research establishment were instantly able to confirm the samples were indeed Novichok.
Lucky, or what? I mean, it could have happened anywhere. And again, none of the unprotected first responders appears to have been affected, even though they did not immediately know they were dealing with a deadly contaminant engineered to kill on contact.
What are the odds, eh?
England getting to the quarter-finals of the World Cup; a minister lying in the House about a deeply pessimistic report of the disastrous Government attempts to iron-flat the social security system; a Prime Minister floundering as Brexit bully-boys in her cabinet send her ultimatums to wreck the economy; a drama involving an entire youth football team trapped in a cave complex in Thailand have left this astonishing story somewhere down the running order, but by tomorrow it will be number one, and rightly so.
Just what the hell is going on? As Mr Trump might ask.
No-one has any idea, and what remains of the government is clearly panicking; while the police advice to the frightened people of Amesbury? “Wash your clothes. Don’t pick anything up unless you know what it is.” Very helpful, I’m sure. What does “anything” mean? What does this stuff look like? It’s a secret!
Then there’s the media. The BBC’s security correspondent, Gordon Carrera, is also floundering. His unlikely explanation: “Perhaps this is some of the Novichok prepared for the attack (in March) and discarded – maybe somewhere like a park, a house – and maybe these two came across it.”
Perhaps. Maybe. Just what you want from a security expert.
Look. Forty-something couples living in agreeably sleepy country towns, people called Dawn and Charlie, can’t automatically be assumed to be involved in post-Soviet era skulduggery.
But might they be?
Murders in Midsomer generally involve shotguns, quarrels about overgrown Leylandii hedges, adultery – or hitmen from The Smoke whacking crime barons’ retired business rivals. They don’t include deadly compound nerve agents and GRU goons acting on a nod from Putin.
Apart from the weapon of choice, and the proximate locations of Salisbury, Amesbury and the grim facility of the Porton Down biological warfare establishment, it might seem nothing would link the two murder attempts – assuming they were murder attempts, and not accidental own-goals.
The initial response of the Russians to hot accusals from Mrs May in the wake of the Skripal incident was, as usual, to argue that it was only the West trying to discredit Putin prior to his re-election in May. Or, to divert attention from her problems over Brexit. Or it was MI6 tidying-up one of its own double-agents who’d gone rogue.
The obvious reason then for attacking innocent villagers apparently at random would be for Russian agents to exonerate the Russians: “there’s an epidemic of Novichok in your country, comradeski; it’s not ours, it must have escaped from Porton Down, and been left carelessly where anyone can find it; why, would you think we would deliberately target a former double-agent living peacefully in retirement in the heartland of the British defense industry?” And so on.
So, a diversionary tactic to cover-up for the first attack. Really?
The BogPo will return to this diverting spy story as soon as we learn more – if we ever do. The key, we suspect, will lie in the occupations of the two victims and what relationship they have with Porton Down, or with the security establishment; a key that has tantalizingly not yet been turned after four months. We are being told absolutely nothing.
Because the sheer impossibility of the story is that this poisoning could have been accidental. If the attack on this couple was accidental, then so must have been the attack on the Skripals – and therefore not an attack at all. What are the odds against two innocent couples being accidentally poisoned eight miles and four months apart by the same Soviet-era military nerve agent no-one wanted to admit still exists?
You’d have to invoke quantum theory to explain it.
For now, it seems highly unlikely that Dawn and Charlie are just collateral damage from the previous incident. They have to be connected. Novichok has, we learned at the time, a half-life: its effectiveness decays. March was a long time ago for this stuff to have hung around. Why Amesbury? And why now?
And, what, the would-be assassin just happened to throw a bag of it away, where four months later, Dawn and Charlie, out gathering magic mushrooms in the forest, managed to find it and smear themselves with it? It’s a compound substance, the individual chemicals are non-toxic. You have to blend them to make it active. Or so we are told.
The extent of their involvement may never come out, but involved in the Skripal affair they most certainly must have been somehow.
The probability of a second Russian attack in the UK using a banned military-grade substance, right in the middle of the feelgood World Cup football tournament in Russia, after the global furore caused by the last one, is vanishingly small, although it will be blamed on them. Is that what they are relying on? The sheer implausibility of this awful thing happening twice?
There are no coincidences in the world of espionage.*
*So, poor Dawn died, “Theresa May said on Thursday that Salisbury and the wider area remained “very much open for business”. – Guardian – She’s definitely losing it.
While Charlie regained consciousness and apparently told police they found the novichok in a perfume bottle. A few days later the police announced they had identified a number of Russian suspects.
“…one could almost be the last human on earth. Someone has to be.”
The last human?
Hunzi and I take our daily constitutional along the cycle path through the exurban space that passes for our local park, round the small, tangled wood beside the town sewage works and back. It is, as I have noted before, a space far from the nearest poisoned farmland, compartmentalized into many enticing habitats:
- A clear, pebbly-bottomed stream, once long ago teeming with salmon and sea-trout, now shrunk in the unaccustomed weeks of sunshine (thanks to a blocking high-pressure area out in the Atlantic) to less than half of its normally quite respectable girth;
- its murmuring, tree-lined banks, mainly willow and alder, where hopeful signage tells us voles are being protected. I’ve never seen one, only a kingfisher once, ducks, and a couple of times a heron; plenty of feral cats, though;
- open areas of heath-like quality, infested with gorse and broom; shoulder-high thickets of brambles;
- an impenetrable forest of spiny sloe-trees (Prunus spinosa) planted by Post Office workers in honor of a colleague long deceased;
- marshy areas, temporarily bone-dry, supporting patches of reed-grass, bullrushes and goat-willow;
- hanger woods creeping up hillsides crowned with open sheep-pasture;
- succession woodland on the valley floor pockmarked with overgrown, ancient flood-traps, where bluebells in the early spring radiate their ultraviolet glow amid discarded bag-waste and the detritus of winter floods;
- an arboretum, mostly birch, their trunks crazed with some virus that is causing great black galls and cracks in the silvery bark, filled with a powdery orange mildew;
- two railway embankments (one a narrow-gauge line with a Puffing Billy steam locomotive, for tourists), warrened by rabbits;
- a half-acre wildflower meadow rapidly filling with new bracken, so late in the season; its tall grasses drying brown in the heat;
- a private cricket ground, scorched and brown; the university playing fields, newly shorn of their riot of buttercups; the sewage works popular with shit-hunting gulls, before you come upon the industrial estate and community recycling facility….
- some ribbon development visible through the trees, halfway up the valley sides;
- a nearby, thundering main road, beside which Hunzi, Katz and I have been condemned by my Committee of Discarnate Entities and the immutable Karmic laws of the Universe to live, surrounded by shouty people with power tools.
We walk through all of the above for about 40 minutes as usual, listening for the loud explosions of the seed cases of the gorse in the sunshine. It is late June, 24 degrees with a faint sea-breeze hardly troubling the topmost leaves and – albeit half-blind in one eye, and through sunglasses – over the course of two miles I observe the following tally of wildlife:
- 1 meadow brown butterfly.
- 1 moth, gray, of undetermined species.
- 2 worker bees, foraging among the bramble blossoms.
- Possibly 2 or 3 other bees on the wing, not pausing long enough to be identified.
- 2 grasshoppers, heard not seen.
- About a dozen flies, some trying halfheartedly to be annoying.
- 1 blackbird, ground-feeding.
- 2 corvids – I never know, are they jackdaws?
- 1 pigeon, stupefied upon a wire.
- In the far distance across the rooftops along the side of the valley, four or five gulls.
Otherwise all is still, silent apart from some desultory midday birdsong and the distant rumble of traffic. Around us, in the overgrown verges, the woodlands and the meadows, amid the ridiculous profusion of early summer verdure, that ambushed us only three or four weeks ago, is an ominous shortage of invertebrate life.
On this stunning day, blue sky smeary with the jet-trails* that tragic American halfwits are constantly posting they believe are proof of a conspiracy between NASA and the Pentagon to control the world’s weather, a conspiracy that must have involved tens of thousands of aero-engineers, maintenance crews and airline executives from a hundred countries for over 60 years without anybody saying anything, on this, the flattest of flat earths (bounded, presumably, by the Ohio state line), we appear to be facing extinction.
Not that there is anyone much around to notice: a postal worker on his way to work – we acknowledge one another with a cheery grunt almost every day, whom I have never seen wearing long trousers, a man in his 50s – and a solitary cyclist, a person I don’t recognize, a visitor helpfully dressed for identification purposes, unmistakably as a cyclist.
The welcome disappearance, after a busy weekend, of waddling, multiply tattooed harridans, their snarling pitbulls and even more obese daughters pushing prams with one hand while keeping up intense monologues on their cellphones with the other; the lack of joggers dispelling clouds of Lynx in their wake, the dearth of silly grownups on roller-skates and skateboards are welcome reminders that one could almost be the last human on earth.
Someone has to be.
It might not be too bad.
An aviation mystery
* Jet trails, hmmmn. You know what? They’ve stopped!
Here just outside Boglington I walk Hunzi for two hours every day around the valley, observing with mild trepidation that we seem to be directly under a busy flight path for commercial airliners heading out to sea en masse, up to 20 at a time.
The sky is usually, as I have written, criss-crossed with vapor from their engines, spreading out and creating a high-level haze of stratus cloud over the valley.
And since the weekend, at least – it takes time to register these things – they’ve pretty much completely stopped. Disappeared off the radar, as it were.
I’ve spotted only three, maybe four, in the past week; two of those way off in the distance; and last evening at sunset I heard a solitary airliner cruising overhead, but could see nothing in the clear blue sky.yh
The weather here has been most unusually dry, hot and sunny for weeks, and we have even had our very own wildfire – it burned for four days and there were helicopters and everything, dumping water, but it didn’t make the national news.
Otherwise, nothing. I point out the empty sky to a few other dog walkers I judge capable of independent thought, and they look mildly surprised and say, oh yes, you’re right! We hadn’t noticed. (That’s Boglingtonians for you, they never notice a thing until you point it out to them.)
But nobody has an explanation.
It’s another mystery to be cleared up in the fullness of time.
GW: Upstairs in the attic, a’ blowin’ up me rubber ring
Canada: “6 more people have died in Montreal’s heatwave, bringing to 12 the city’s total death toll from the extreme weather conditions that have gripped central and eastern Canada, health officials said on Wednesday.” (Guardian). Emergency services have received over 1200 calls as temperatures have lingered for days in the mid-30s C, 90s F. Another 5 possibly related deaths were recorded in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.
India: 16 people died as a result of severe weather in Maharashtra, many in lightning strikes, between 22 and 24 June. Santa Cruz observatory in Mumbai recorded 231.4 mm rain in 24 hours. Since 29 May, over 1 million people have been affected by heavy monsoon rains and severe flooding in the north-eastern states. As of 25 June, the number of deaths stands at 239.
“At least 3 people died in Jammu and Kashmir, northern India, after days of heavy rainfall. Authorities suspended the famous Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage due to threat of floods and landslides.””Floods and landslides caused by heavy rainfall since 01 July, 2018, have claimed 12 lives in Nepal, with a further 6 injured and 3 still missing.”
Vietnam: floods and landslides triggered by recent heavy rain in northern areas of the country have killed at least 7 people and destroyed almost 50 houses. Nam Giang in Lai Chau province recorded 386 mm (14 in.) of rain in 24 hours to 24 June.
Myanmar: At least 30 people have died in floods and landslides in Myanmar since early June when this year’s monsoon rains began. 6 people were killed in a landslide that buried a staff quarters in Kachin state on 22 June and 5 more in flooding elsewhere. Record rainfall fell in Mon State on 17 June. Rakhine state and Magway Region were severely affected by flooding and landslides in early June.
Darfur: torrential rains on 21 June destroyed 430 houses in six displaced persons’ (internal refugee) camps in Zalingei, Central Darfur. High winds accompanied rain that lasted all night. Large numbers of families are now living in the open after the rain destroyed their houses and they lost what little they owned.
Ghana: “five people have been confirmed dead and one missing following a heavy rain that caused flooding in some parts of Kumasi. Heavy rain began during the evening of Thursday 28 June. During a 24 hour period to 29 June, Kumasi recorded 115mm of rain. A further 76 mm of rain fell the following day.”
Edited from officially sourced reports on Floodlist.com/
Oman: the coastal city of Quriyat (Qurayyat) on Tuesday 26 June posted a 24-hour low temperature of 42.6°C (108.7°F) from local midnight to midnight. “According to weather records expert Maximiliano Herrera, this sets a new world record for the hottest 24-hour-minimum temperature ever recorded.” The maximum temperature in Quriyat peaked at 49.8°C (121.6°F), and topped out at 50.6°C, 123°F in Joba – another record.
USA: 30 June: baseball-size hail pelts north Texas, Colorado.
“A dome of intense heat—not too far from record intensity for so early in the summer—will migrate from the Rockies to the Midwest and Northeast by this weekend, accompanied by worsening air quality. An unusually thick layer of dust from the Sahara will bring hazy skies to the central U.S. late in the week. Temperatures are expected to reach or exceed 110°F in Arizona on Tuesday and Wednesday.” Dangerous levels of ozone are being warned of.
Meanwhile, thanks to cooler waters over 2,000 bathers have reported being stung by jellyfish off the coast of Florida in the past two weeks. Wunderground specialist, Dr Jeff Masters complains that the Atlantic hurricane season has got off to a disappointingly slow start, but “June has already seen four named East Pacific storms with the arrival of Daniel on Sunday, and at least two more named storms are possible this week before the month is out.”
“At least one person died in flash floods that hit areas around Des Moines, Iowa, on 20 June. The city of Johnston recorded 8.4 inches (213.36 mm) in 24 hours. Rivers broke their banks and emergency services including teams from Des Moines Police department carried out dozens of high water rescues of people trapped in flooded homes or vehicles.” (Edited from Floodlist)
Europe: Heat warnings are out across much of southern Europe and across the Mediterranean to the Adriatic, where amber warnings have been given for severe thunderstorms over Greece. Details on Meteoalarm are, as usual, scanty, so we can’t be sure what a yellow advisory will add up to in Spain, but we find that even the Irish Republic is being warned of temperatures in the high 20s C, while here in Boglington tomorrow we are looking at a possible 30C, 86F.
UK: as temperatures climb into the 30s C, high 80s F, a brushfire has consumed a 4-mile stretch of Saddleworth Moor, Manchester, after weeks with almost no rain. The peat subsoil is smouldering, making it difficult to contain. Denizens of the US west will no doubt have got over the limitations of the language by now, but Britain’s first major wildfire in years evoked all the cliches, as the “dry as tinder” scrub burned, “One resident described seeing “ash falling like rain” (more like ash, shurely? Ed.) and another said it “looked like the apocalypse”. The Hollywood version, presumably.
Here in Boglington we’ve had three days of wildfires burning further up the valley, but as yet nothing to make the news. People here are curiously incurious. You point toward the roiling smoke plume three miles away and the heavy haze hanging over us and they say, oh yes, we thought we could smell something, what is it? 33C is the forecast for tomorrow and apart from the smoke we still have wall-to-wall sunshine and more scorching heat forecast, odd for usually monsoonal late June.
Russia: “a crane driver died trying to prevent his rig from falling on the city’s wedding palace when a powerful storm hit Bernaul on the 23rd June. It left the city almost totally without electricity and caused water supply shortages. Traffic lights failed, and trees, fences, billboards were smashed.” – Siberian Times
According to its Wikipedia entry, Abakan is the capital city of the Republic of Khakassia, located at the confluence of the Yenisei and Abakan Rivers in central southern Siberia. As of 7 pm this evening, 25 June, local time, the temperature there was 35C, 95F.
Greece: flash flooding followed 24 hours of heavy rain in the south and midlands. 28 and 29 June the rain moved north and east, causing widespread flood damage and washing out roads in Albania, Bulgaria and Romania.
Meteoalarm/ The Weather Channel/ Siberian Times/ Floodlist
“Well, his arm was not in an unnatural position. It’s still joined to his body.” BBC commentator.