Home » Europe; EU referendum » Dude, why are only 59 million people reading my stuff?… Miss you, Mr Mercer… AI-up, robots!… GW: Kickin’ up a storm… Fracking hell.

Dude, why are only 59 million people reading my stuff?… Miss you, Mr Mercer… AI-up, robots!… GW: Kickin’ up a storm… Fracking hell.

Quote of the week

“Americans think of themselves first, second, third, fourth, fifth – and if there’s any time left over they think about Americans” – Brazil’s ex-President, Lula da Silva, interviewed in prison, questions Bolsonaro’s deeply unpatriotic love of America.

 

Phenomenal BogPo Prophesies Corner:

A new poll (28 April, 2019) has shown that a three-quarters majority of the British voting public, half whom voted on 23 June 2016 to Leave the EU, now agree that the referendum was a stupid idea in the first place. But here is what your Uncle Bogler wrote in a Post (“Calling in the receivers”) on 24 FEBRUARY, 2016:

“On the morning after he loses and the receivers take over the business, Mr Cameron will announce the closing-down sale of GB plc – henceforth Britain will be available only on-line.

“Within minutes, all the people who couldn’t previously be bothered just because Europe was always there will start flocking to the Channel Tunnel and Heathrow airport, demanding in broken French to be let out before the iron gates clang shut for the last time and all the remaining unsold stock is shipped out to depotland. Sales of garlic, berets, bicycles, Johnny Halliday records and funny sausage will soar.

“I predict, once we leave the EU we will all become much more European.”

And the fatuous Mr Trump boasts of how he cleverly predicted a Leave vote – on 22 June, 2016. Bollocks to him, frankly.

 

Dude, why are only 59 million people reading my stuff?

If anyone has not yet grasped the scale of Trump’s jawdropping narcissism, the following report from CNN, sourced in part to the Washington Post, and also commented upon on YouTube by the wonderful Mike Malloy, will give you some idea. I have provided a mixed account:

“President Donald Trump met with (i.e. he summoned to the White House) Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey on Tuesday, hours after Trump erroneously accused the social media company of “discriminatory” behavior toward conservative users (i.e. himself). The meeting included (in fact it almost exclusively concerned. Ed.) a discussion (more of a tirade, probably) about the disappointing size of Trump’s (59 million) Twitter following (which, he claims, is being deliberately suppressed for political reasons). (He also complained that President Obama has over 100 million Twitter followers, nearly twice as many as he does and all clearly fake.)

Dorsey had to explain to the Tangerine Wunderkind that if accounts are being blocked or taken down, it is invariably because they are abusive and hateful or threatening and don’t meet the guidelines.

“After the meeting, Trump tweeted a photo and wrote, “Lots of subjects discussed regarding their platform, and the world of social media in general.”

The fatuous chump has also revived his insane excuse for being elected president, that Britain’s GCHQ was spying on him on the orders of President Obama, on behalf of Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, he is forcing himself on us with a State visit; HM Queen offering an irresistibly glitzy photo-op to exuberate his post-Mueller dumbfucks.

Give us a break, Donald.

 

“How vain and incurious does anyone have to be, to accept when someone offers to pay them £350 an hour, just for the use of their name?”

“Miss you, Mr Mercer” – with any luck

From BBC News, 24 April:

“A company that marketed a failed bond scheme that lost savers £236m has been funding an MP’s private salary. Johnny Mercer receives £85,000 from Crucial Academy, a company ultimately funded by Surge Financial Limited … (which) took 25% commission for marketing bonds (issued) by London Capital & Finance (LC&F), which is now in administration. Mr Mercer – who is facing calls from investors to quit as an MP – said he had done nothing wrong.” (Mr Mercer denies that Crucial Academy receives funding from LC&F.)

Is everyone totally blindsided by, say, Brexit, Trump, Greta Thunberg or the difficulty of getting through central London over the supergluey bodies of climate protesters?

Your Boglmeister, I have previously pointed out that London Capital & Finance may well turn out to be the most glaring example of a Ponzi scheme since Bernie Madoff started his several lifetimes feasting on all porridge and no molasses. Sadly, no such fate may befall the directors of LC&F, but we shall see.

With unbelievably crude deviousness, a number of companies appear to have been set up behind the brass plate of Surge Financial Limited, apparently by this Mr Paul Careless, a perfect case of nominative determinism, at the forefront of which was LC&F, which advertised – using a Brighton-based agency called Surge, also owned by Mr Careless, on a quite desirable budget of £60 million, which would buy a few Porsches – unregulated investments returning an improbable 8%, mainly to gullible old pension holders whose stored-up pots of dosh were freed from restrictions by the previous Tory Chancellor, George “Eight jobs” Osborne, prior to his departure in 2016.

The funnel-mouth of London & Capital was then, one gathers from reports, used to suck in investors’ cash to finance all of the directors’ subsidiary companies, money seemingly not Carefully invested in other stocks or mutuals offering competitive terms. It looks like precisely the sort of rapacious operation financial pundits were warning would set up shop in the wake of Osborne’s free-market policy, to separate gullible oldies from their dreams of high-spec campervans and round-the-world cruises.

The breezily named Johnny Mercer MP, a litigiously engaging dimwit (he is suing the BBC for this) not to be confused with the actually rather clever late American songwriter of that ilk, already receives a salary close to £80 thousand a year from the taxpayer, plus £130 thousand Parliamentary expenses, so he must have been in dire need of the extra £85 thousand a year he gets from Surge – sorry, “Crucial Academy”, another company also owned by Careless and chums, that is, he claims, entirely financially independent of LC&F – that does wondrous good works, training Army veterans to survive in the world of employment.

Signed last year to add some small weight to the proceedings, Mercer is either another greedy political chancer or otherwise too naive a useful idiot to be an MP. I suspect it is the latter, judging by his yelping protestations of innocence – which can be understood, given that four directors closer to the center of operations have been questioned by the Serious Fraud Office. It certainly looks like he has been used as a patsy, to front-up what to others might seem a bit of a con.

A related business doing charitable stuff for Our Heroes is possibly the most obvious PR front for internal money-washing it would be possible to imagine – not that Mr Mercer, an ex-Army officer himself, would have noticed, as his role as a non-executive director occupies him for just 20 hours a month, and for what?

How vain and incurious does anyone not much in the public eye have to be, to accept when someone offers to pay them £350 an hour, just for the use of their name and face?

Crucial is only one of several subsidiary companies through which £236 million of investors’ pension funds and life savings seems to have “surged” like hot soapy water through champagne glasses in a dishwasher, and ultimately “Vanish”-ed down the plughole. (You’re fired. Metaphor abuse. Ed.)

What is so peculiar about this whole affair, however, is how the media – such as the BBC, whose reporting has illuminated this Post, and well done at least for bringing the story to light – and even Private Eye’s “Slicker” column is still portraying LC&F as some kind of genuine investment opportunity that has hit a patch of bad luck.

Of course it was a bloody Ponzi scheme! What else?

Wake up, BBC dimwits.

 

AI-up, robots!

In 1976, I sold my one and only ever published work of deliberate fiction, a short story for which I was paid a handsome £100.

You might be too young to remember the world in them days, like what I do, but there was no social media, no iPhones or Androids, no Google or eMail or Sky TV showing 40 channels of adult entertainment.

Not even the ubiquitous, clunky IBM desktop PCs that predated the thinline laptop computer and the incomprehensible phablet by more than three decades were yet much heard or known about outside academic circles.

In 1976, people didn’t go around annoyingly saying “like” or “cool” every other word, Game of Thrones hadn’t been mentioned in a plug even once. We’d been a member of the European Economic Community for less than three years, so our British Leyland cars still rusted to bits within months, no-one holidayed abroad in case of foreign food, and Britain’s bananas were still bent.

Nor was there yet Thatcher; except as the mean-spirited education minister who stopped the children’s free milk ration. (That’s the way to get to be leader of the Tory party.)

My story resulted from a sort of commission from the editor of Computer Age magazine, into whom I had accidentally run outside the dungeon headquarters of the London Broadcasting Company in Gough Square, just behind Fleet Street.

I was a journalist of sorts, working freelance, and Meyer Solomon had been a guest on a show from which he was recovering on the same bench, incidentally, where I also met Anthony Burgess. We got chatting, and I offered him five thousand words fresh hewn from my IBM “golfball” typewriter, without any idea at that stage of what they would be about, and he took my arm off, as they say.

“Hello, Mr Chips” emerged shortly thereafter, from my fertile brain.

The story concerned Kevin, a schoolboy with issues you would nowadays identify as autistic spectrum disorders – issues like ADHD and Asperger’s, that had no catchy names in those days. So incapable of benefiting from the standard socialized education model was Kevin, that he had to be excluded from school, and a special experimental computer program created to teach him.

Kevin becomes deeply upset and troubled, and runs away when it’s proposed that his beloved teaching computer should be replaced by an advanced model. However, returned to his home he is intrigued to find that his new Mark 11 teacher is a fully functioning android programmed with what we now know as Artificial Intelligence, AI, called Mr Chips (see what I did there?*).

And then – spoiler alert – in the final denouement, Kevin’s older sister, who has been eyeing him speculatively for a while, runs off and elopes with Mr Chips.

Which is where the story gets spooky, because 43 years then go by, I’ve spent the hundred quid, and a well-remunerated famous writer who is not me, sadly, Ian McEwan, publishes this week a shortform novel (his are never overlong), “Machines Like Me”, in which – as the Private Eye books reviewer tells me, I haven’t read it – “A couple acquire a synthetic human and a love triangle duly develops”.

On top of my advanced, Nostradamus-like prognostications concerning not only our modern understanding of spectrum disorders like ADHD, and developments in educational computing and dedicated robotics, but also uncannily prefiguring cases like that of the precocious 15-year-old “M.S.” (we’re probably still not allowed to mention her by name), a nubile student and her 30-year-old art teacher paramour, poor Jeremy Forrest, who might just be coming out of jail about now after serving half of a monstrously unjust sentence for kidnapping a minor (infatuated, she persuaded the nitwit to take her to France, where nobody batted an eyelid), the problem of exclusions from schools is also a hot topic today; although I hadn’t foreseen the kind of Tory cuts that would have made it impossible to supply Kevin with a broken abacus, let alone an android.

How cool was that?

I ought, I suppose, to be proud of my astonishing capacity to peer into the future in so many regards. However, even I was beaten to the presumptive threat of AI by Isaac Asimov (IA!), who cottoned on in the late 1950s to the notion that one day, computers would grow so sophisticated as to replace us; and indeed, predicted that a supercomputer would eventually replace God as the machine creator of a new universe, out of all the stored data of the old (thus prefiguring Google by 50 years).

Now, that was one hell of a story!

*For younger readers, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” is a 1939 British romantic drama starring Oscar-winning Robert Donat, based on a 1934 novella by James Hilton. The story concerns Chipping, a much-loved schoolteacher who recalls his career and personal life over the decades. It was voted by BFI members the 72nd best film of all time.

 

GW: Kickin’ up a storm

Mozambique: is being battered for a record second time in a month by a Cat 4 cyclone, Kenneth, with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph and a 4m storm surge. Latest, 28 April: Pemba, regional capital of Cabo Delgado state, has experienced more than 2m (6.5ft) of rain and flooding. The situation in the  towns of Macomia and Quissanga was critical, and there are also worries for the cut-off island of Ibo. Waves up to 4m high are also expected, and aid agencies fear rains will worsen over the next four days. 700 thousand people are said to be directly at risk.

Late on Wednesday, the head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said she feared the region faced “another humanitarian catastrophe” following Cyclone Idai, which killed up to 1000 last month and left 2m in need of aid. There is no previous record of hurricane-force systems ever hitting the region so far north before, BBC Weather reports – let alone twice at Cat 2 or more in one season. Having already killed 3 people in the Comoros islands, the slow-moving storm is expected to bring 0.8m of rain to some areas of the country. (BBC News)

Uganda: “A storm that brought hail, strong winds and heavy rain to parts of eastern Uganda on 23 April has left at least 18 people dead and displaced around 900, according to local media. The storm hit during the early hours causing flooding in Buyende and Kamuli districts. As many as 140 people were injured, and houses and livestock severely damaged.” (Floodlist)

British Isles: are being battered currently by Storm Hannah, with 85 mph wind gusts, power cuts, big waves, heavy rain and fallen trees causing travel disruption. Yellow flood warnings out across the west of the UK. It’s quite late in the Atlantic storm season and some trees here have been stripped of their soft spring growth, their blossom, with fallen branches everywhere. (BBC)

Italy: Severe weather, including stormy seas and strong winds, affected parts of Italy from around 22 to 24 April. Heavy rain increased river levels in parts of Tuscany and Liguria. As of 24 April, at least 1 person had died and rescue workers were searching for 2 women swept away by the flooding Letimbro River in Santuario. Earlier, media reported that 1 person died in high waves along the coast of Porto Corallo on the island of Sardinia. (Floodlist) A low pressure ridge is bringing torrential rainfall, heavy hail and strong winds from the Balkans northeast as far as Russia. (Severe-weather.eu)

USA: Yet more “Severe thunderstorms hit northern and central Texas from 23 April, bringing strong winds, hail, heavy rain and flash floods. A warehouse near Bryan was destroyed. Dallas Love Field recorded 91 mm (3.6 in.) of rain in 24 hours. 3 people died when a vehicle was swept off a road by flood water in Erath County early on 24 April.” 1 person survived by clinging to a tree. More severe storms are forecast for the weekend. (Floodlist) After a warmer than average week, snow is returning to portions of the northern Midwestern states, with heavy rain and more flooding expected across the Great Plains. (The Weather Channel)

Canada: Around 8 thousand people have been forced to leave their homes in communiies near Montreal as flooding caused dikes to collapse. Communities in Quebec are on evacuation alert and the army has been called out as flooding emergencies are declared locally. Rising river levels are threatening the collapse of a large dam, Bell Falls, near Ottawa. Peak flow may not be for another two weeks and record levels are expected, thanks to the spring melt of an unusually large snowpack – while further major rainfall events are forecast. (Paul Beckwith) Prof Beckwith also reports on new research showing higher ocean temperatures are leading to stronger winds and rougher seas, bigger waves – so far by about 8% since 1950.

 

Fracking hell

The commissioner will be a contact point for residents, to listen to their concerns, refer them to relevant and factual research and help improve communication with regulators and industry. – YouGov website

Former Labour MP, Natascha Engel was appointed as Britain’s “fracking tsar” six months ago, by the business secretary, Greg Clarke. Today, she has stepped down, complaining that over-regulation is stifling the nascent industry, making her job impossible; and that the government has allowed itself to be bullied by a “tiny minority” of noisy environmental NGOs that have profited at the nation’s expense.

It’s a clear case of what used to be known in diplomatic corps circles as “going native”, the total abandonment of any pretence at independence being considered quite a grave crime in the old colonial days.

Ms Engel’s resignation letter is quoted in today’s Observer. It will astonish anyone even vaguely familiar with the arguments against fracking – “hydraulic fracturing”, to give the practice its proper name:

“A perfectly viable and exciting new industry that could help meet our carbon reduction targets, make us energy secure and provide jobs in parts of the country that really need them is in danger of withering on the vine – not for any technical or safety reasons, but because of a political decision.

“The UK could be on the cusp of an energy revolution the like of which we have not seen since the discovery of North Sea oil and gas.”

Having worked in the PR and promotions business for a few unexciting years, your Old Granny can vouch for the assiduous attention to her clients’ vanity found in Ms Engel’s copywriting efforts; assuming she wrote the letter herself. The fracking tsarina goes on to make further points in favour of this incredibly brutal and polluting method of extracting methane from shale deposits, for instance:

“Engel complained that a traffic light system that halts fracking when a tremor with a magnitude of M0.5 is recorded ‘amounts to a de facto ban'” – claiming that no other country, for instance the United States, sets such a low bar.

Would that a similar rule had been imposed in Colorado, then, where the number of recorded earth tremors in what was not previously known as a particularly active area has gone from three a year to over 800 since Mr Harold Hamm the Fracking King (net worth $14.1 billion) started operations 30 years ago; while their magnitude, their destructive power has steadily increased from below M1.5 to M5 and upwards.

Google supplies the following helpful note: “Beneath Britain the Earth’s crust is crisscrossed with ancient cracks, or fault lines, which are constantly under stress. … Tremors are not uncommon in Britain. Each year, the British Geological Survey (BGS) records between 200 to 300 separate events.” Indeed, a M4.2 was recorded in the Channel last year, and a Big One is not entirely unanticipated at some stage. The crude splitting of shale deposits under enormous pressure has already produced a number of significant earth tremors, which Ms Engel dismisses as “no more than the rumbling of a tube train” (I paraphrase).

Engel too is blithe to the evidence of rising methane emissions directly from fracking operations, methane being a greenhouse gas up to 100 times more infra-red absorbent than CO2, to which it slowly decays – and to the scientific fact that when you boil your breakfast egg, burning natural gas gives off CO2 and water vapour: both greenhouse gases.

She appears to be willing to ignore research conducted by her former party that sugggests fracking operations of the size envisaged in Britain would eventually produce an additional CO2 burden equivalent to another 289 million cars, instead suggesting that extracting and burning more fossil fuel will somehow enable us to meet our emissions targets sooner – a trope frequently employed by climate change deniers being that the CO2 produced from natural gas – methane – is somehow cleaner and better for us than that emitted from burning oil and coal.

Evidence also from the USA of grossly polluted and overextracted groundwater basins damaging agriculture and residential communities, of pipeline leaks and of methane gas seeping under pressure into domestic plumbing systems seems somewhat at odds with Engel’s wild claims for fracking’s positive impacts on local communities – evidence that is as yet nowhere to be found in the UK as fracking has had only limited success to date, operations being frequently halted as the M0.5 tremor limit has so frequently been exceeded.

Nor is her rosy vision of local communities welcoming the investment remotely in accordance with the facts.

What on earth is this silly woman up to? Has she not noticed that environmental protest is the flavour of the month?

Here again is the old “job creation” argument: fracking is good for jobs. (We already have record low unemployment, but carry on…)

The plain fact is, your Granny observes, that these capital-intensive engineering projects tend to rely on imported, specialized labour forces until they are up and running, whereafter they operate semi-autonomously on a routine service and maintenance basis, until they are abandoned and ultimately, one hopes, decommissioned. They do not create significant numbers of permanent jobs for local people in the deprived rural areas Engel refers to, from where the younger, employable pool of labour have mostly emigrated to the cities in any case.

By extension, her belief in the job creation possibilities of fracking produces a”£7 billion a year” economic advantage to the Treasury, money we could be spending on hospitals… er, ring any bells? The prospect seems doubtful, however, as much of the revenue will certainly be eaten up in tax rebates and loopholes, concessions enabling Cuadrilla to maximise its profitability through the early years. The £7 bn she claims we are losing could equally well be invested in non-polluting renewables, that will also produce a return for the Chancellor to spend on pothole repairs.

Your Granny notices too, several more inconsistencies in her lengthy missive. Engel boasts that Britain has the best regulated fracking industry in the world. Except that, she complains, regulation is preventing the industry from progressing and so she would like to see less! The process, she claims, is “materially no different” from other methods of hydrocarbon extraction. Then she goes on to try to explain why it is in fact very different, an entirely “new industry”, and much better for us… Make up your mind, deary.

It would be churlish, and probably libellous, to suggest that this woman’s future career prospects might be materially enhanced by her willingness to say these things that no self-respecting, right-minded ex-Labour MP ought to be saying, as they are at best highly controversial and on a bad day, according to independent experts, blatant industry propaganda. From what she writes, she appears to be arguing in favour of doing the maximum possible damage, both to the environment and to the fissiparous geology of the British Isles, merely for the short-term gain of a business whose interests she was supposed to be balancing against those of local communities; not that she was supposed to be blatantly promoting them.

That she has gone is a hopeful sign. That her departure might have some negative impact in a week when her old party boss, Mr Corbyn is hoping Parliament will declare a national climate emergency, is possibly not.

(Original reporting, Observer and various news media, 28 April)

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