Who Won The Week (8 March 2020)

I have Fandango to thank for this title – he has been posting regularly on this subject from his west-coast-USA vantage point. I am interested in current affairs too, and normally have some nonsense or other to spout about one of the UK’s topical news stories. So, I like to join in. Maybe there’s something in your world that you’d like to post about?

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In my earlier life I was fortunate not really to have any health issues. That changed, four years ago, when I had the stroke. In the immediate aftermath, I thought I would have another stroke anyday soon, and that would be it. After all, I was every bit as likely to have a second stroke as I was to have had the first.

As time went by, I started thinking that maybe I wouldn’t have another stroke, leastways not right then. That maybe I did have a future ahead of me. I determined that if ever I got well enough, I would try and help people in the same situation. That was why I volunteered.

As a volunteer, I have seen lots of stroke survivors. Some people go on to recover well, with full use of their limbs and the same brain-power, that they had before their stroke. But alongside the success stories I saw the worst cases – people who had their full brain power, were absolutely aware of their predicament, but were left unable even to get up from their bed. Their partner has become their carer in the blink of an eye.

I have talked to these people. Some of them have said that they just want to hurry up and die. Seriously. And I can understand why – medicine has the power to keep them alive, but not the power to grant them any kind of quality to their life. They remember who they were, they see what they have become, and they want out.

Bottom line, I have seen how we can keep people alive, artificially almost, and certainly despite their wishes. I’ve been blessed to see this first hand, at a relatively young age, when my thought process is still good, and I know it is not for me. I guess we would all say the same. I’m also blessed that my medication can be fatal, at the right (i.e. wrong!) dose. So I know I have a get-out, if needs be.

I dodged one bullet with the stroke – it left me damaged but I’m still productive. If I suddenly became unproductive, I know what I need to do. When my time is up, my time is up. So, if I have a choice – quickly over a few hours, days or weeks or slowly, degeneratively, maybe over decades, then it is a no-brainer.

I pulled my original post today, on International Women’s Day, because I thought this topic was more important. It went along the lines of actions, not gestures, that by all means pat ourselves on the back for the progress which we have made, but let’s not forget that there is work still to do. And you can guess the rest … But this whole week, our national news feeds have been dominated by one thing. So are my favourite Irish feeds- even my local news feeds! COVID-19, AKA CoronaVirus. So, in terms of dominating the news coverage, there is actually a clear winner. Not a who, but a what – the COVID-19 virus.

So far, I have been very unimpressed with the level of public information in the UK. The key questions I had were:

  • what signs do I look for?
  • what should I do when I see those signs?
  • how can I expect to be treated?

Instead, we had the chief of Public Health England (you can guess…), who came on our most serious news programme and said that the NHS had a thorough strategy for dealing with COVID-19, but when pressed, would not elaborate on exactly what their strategy was. So I’m sure that many viewers, myself included, decided that the chap was a shill, a puppet, put onto TV to further the propaganda – we don’t have a clue of how to deal with this, but let’s think about nice things instead, and hopefully the worst won’t happen! So, this guy instantly loses any credibility he might otherwise have had.

However, regardless of the obstacles, the questions are clear enough, and with the global news network on our computers, we can piece together the answers, if we’re prepared to look for them. Some outlets have covered the story better than others.

My current take on the virus is that:

  • The virus is recognised by flu-like symptoms, in particular shortness of breath.
  • The advice in the UK, if you see the symptoms, is to stay at home. If you’re in the UK specifically, the advice is to call the non-emergency health number, 111, although I am also hearing from other sources that the number is inundated with other calls, so they don’t pick up.
  • In most cases, so far as I can make out, the treatment is just to stay home and weather the storm. No specific treatment/hospital required. This self-isolation is not the precursor to treatment, but the actual treatment itself! Usually.
  • But this scenario can change if people have other aggravating conditions, for example, respiratory issues. It that respect, people are dying from this virus so it can have serious consequences. I read an article from Spain which said that anti-AIDS drugs (which I am guessing are strong antivirals) have been used with some success.
  • Lastly, my wife is a nurse who works for the NHS. Her employers have expressed a degree of concern if my wife goes to her usual social gatherings (her choir, etc.). But soncern is as far as it has gone. They recognise that she is taking a risk. And, these concerns have been raised by admin staff, not by clinical staff.
  • They have also asked her what duties she can offload onto other people. Things she does not have to do herself, just so she has contact with as few people as possible. Unfortunately, most of her job is contact with people. But the obvious thing is blood tests, which are ultimately shipped to the local hospital anyway for analysis. So far, nobody booked in for a blood test has been diverted – this is a plan rather than an action. If you know the Salisbury area, then the virus has been detected in Amesbury so far (maybe 15 miles away). It is a little too close for comfort, but I don’t think I’ll be able to outrun this beastie. it’ll reach me eventually. Amesbury gets all the glamour – it was one of the epicentres of our Novichok nonsense a couple of years ago, too. As of Friday, my wife’s surgery still had a consultant visit them, to talk about something totally unrelated to this virus, so they still appear to be working normally, even if they are planning for the abnormal.

I have no idea how I will be affected personally. I am a diabetic who has already had one stroke, the NHS will tell me that I am “high risk”, although that has never made a difference in practise. My health these days is very good, however. I have no idea how I would be treated – or even whether I would be treated. At this stage, it doesn’t much matter to me. I guess if I felt bad, my first decision would be to decide whether I actually wanted to be treated.

I must admit, in this respect, I can see a clear difference between news broadcasting, which we have a lot of, and public service broadcasting, of which we have none. One is talking about the sensational – in the UK’s case, the two deaths so far, while the other should be concentrating on informing the public (i.e. the other sixty million of us) so that it understands the risks and the actions. Even the BBC, here, is just another news agency in that respect. I think that’s quite poor, but the truth is out there …

Lastly… remember that I’m not an expert. If in doubt, try and find one and ask them. And hope you get a straight answer. And, if you know better than me, please share.

Who Won the Week (1 March 2020)

I have Fandango to thank for this title – he has been posting regularly on this subject from his west-coast-USA vantage point. I am interested in current affairs too, and normally have some nonsense or other to spout about one of the UK’s topical news stories. So, I like to join in. Maybe there’s something in your world that you’d like to post about?

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Developing new airport capacity has long been a thorny issue in the UK. After lengthy debate last time around, the Cameron governent announced that there would indeed be new capacity, somewhere, then launched an inquiry to determine where.

In 2015, the newly-elected MP for Uxbridge, the constituency in which Heathrow Airport lay, promised he would not let the project go ahead. It was a popular move among locals – with two runways already, many people felt that there was more than enough noise there already.

I will join you. I will lie down in front of those bulldozers and stop the construction of that third runway, said the fired-up MP, a chap by the name of Boris Johnson. When push came to shove, though, the government did select Heathrow for the extra capacity. Calmed down some by now, though, Mr Johnson was absent in 2018, when the crucial vote on the extra runway took place. I guess he thought that being away was his best career option – he opposed the projeect itself, but at the same time, did not wish to directly oppose his own government.

Other people were not so wishy-washy in their opposition, however, and after the decision, took the government to court. You see, half-hearted as the Paris Climate Agreement was, it was, at least, ratified in UK law, and the campaigners claimed that the government was obliged to take account of the agreement in any decision, and it had failed to do this. The court, this week, agreed with them.

The thing I found remarkable about this was the follow-on story, which broke just a few hours later. The government will not appeal the decision. Do you maybe get the sense that there might be a certain amount of relief that they lost their own case? Johnson is newly in control, after all*.

* allegedly.

Heathrow Airport, undoubtedly, will appeal the decision. After all, they just saw all that money evaporate. Their argument is simply that the business that would have been generated by an extra runway will now just go to Paris or Amsterdam instead, so the environment won’t actually win, whatever the UK’s decision.

For my money, though, something is either right or it is wrong, and we should behave accordingly. Wrong doesn’t become right, simply because our neighbour is doing it. Let’s hope the French and the Dutch agree, and also do the right thing. The environmental debate was always about the yes/no?, and not the where? So now we need other people to follow the UK’s decision.

But the biggest win here, I haven’t even mentioned yet. The biggest win is the precedent that now exists in the UK, that new infrastructure projects must be tested against our environmental obligations. If they don’t come up to scratch, then we can expect legal challenges. New roads, for example, and only a couple of weeks ago here, the government confirmed a new high-speed railway line (imaginitively called HS2) which again, will have to pass these tests.

So, I do actually have a winner this week, but unfortunately I don’t know their name. It is the poor sod who would have been tasked with clearing Johnson’s muddy, bloody, but very flat corpse from underneath that bulldozer, because … what a bastard of a job that would have been!

Who Won the Week (23 February 2020)

I have Fandango to thank for this title – he has been posting regularly on this subject from his west-coast-USA vantage point. I am interested in current affairs too, and normally have some nonsense or other to spout about one of the UK’s topical news stories. So, I like to join in. Maybe there’s something in your world that you’d like to post about?

I didn’t really have a winner this week, but I did read a quirky news story in the Irish Times which raised my eyebrows. It’s becoming clear to me that I need to think of these posts more in terms of quirkiness than in terms of winners/losers, but I’m going to keep the title and tag, just so I remain consistent with other posts on the theme.

Anyway, I bet you never picked up on this story from your reegular news feeds!

We’ve all heard of the Mary Celeste, right? The American ghost ship which was found drifting off the Azores in the late nineteenth century? Such an unusual story it has passed into folklore, so surely lightning could not strike twice?

Let me introduce the Alta. The Alta is is a freighter, which was en route from Greece to Haiti when, in October 2018, it suffered unrecoverable engine failure out in the Atlantic, about 1,400 miles from Bermuda. Its crew of ten were picked up by the US Coastguard, leaving the ship to drift.

You’d think someone would care about a ship, wouldn’t you? It’s not exactly tiny, it must be worth a bob or two, and after all, this was 2018. But the ship was allowed to drift. And drift. And drift. Last August it was spotteed back across the ocean, off the coast of Africa, having drifted about 1,500 miles across the Atlantic.

But the Alta wasn’t finished. She continued drifting. This time, northwards, until Storm Dennis finally lifted it onto the Irish coast at Ballycotton (what a beautiful name!) in County Cork last week. Because, of course, before Storm Dennis hit the UK, it tore through Ireland.

You wouldn’t have thought any of this was possible in this day and age, would you?

There was a serious side to this story, though, because when it was abandoned, this ship had an amount of fuel on board, so the Irish Times were actually reporting this story from a pollution perspective. If it breaks up, the Irish will have a job on their hands to clear up the mess. I did have a look this morning to see if there was any further news – as of yesterday, so far so good. It is still ongoing but the vessel hasn’t broken up yet.

Who Won The Week (16 February 2020)

I have Fandango to thank for this title – he has been posting regularly on this subject from his west-coast-USA vantage point. I am interested in current affairs too, and normally have some nonsense or other to spout about one of the UK’s topical news stories. So, I like to join in. Maybe there’s something in your world that you’d like to post about?

I follow some Irish feeds, so I had my eyes set on the Irish General Election last weekend, and was pleasantly surprised that Sinn Féin did so well. Because of this, Sinn Féin are my winners.

Ireland has been carved up between two centre-right parties, ever since independence a hundred years ago. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Sinn Féin grew out of the old Irish Republican Army, which fought for independence, and grew in prominence during the conflict in Northern Ireland. At the start, they had a simple policy of wanting a united, independent Ireland, but as they have become a bigger political force, they have developed policies in every area – things like housing, education, healthcare – with a broadly left-wing slant. The type of political party which everybody else of us takes for granted. So I welcome them, as a breath of fresh air to the process.

I talked about a month ago about Irish politics, the intricacies of Northern Ireland. As you might imagine being an all-Ireland party, Sinn Féin have a presence there too. In fact, during the recent UK General Election they won 7 seats. So you have this kinda perverse situation where a bunch of people who want nothing to do with the UK … are sitting in the UK’s parliament.

Except that … they don’t! They don’t take their seats.

The reason? Well, in order to take their seat in the UK Parliament, every MP had to swear an oath of allegiance to the UK’s queen. As a party whose whole ethos is to be independent from the UK, Sinn Féin’s MPs won’t do it. So they elect not to take their seats at all.

I must admitthat if I voted for somebody to represent me, I would at the very least expect them to … represent me! But I can see Sinn Féin’s point. Other MPs have, in the past, paid lip service to this oath, by crossing their fingers or some other such childishness, but I can see why Sinn Féin won’t go there, on a point of principle.

But it does raise an interesting question. Should an MPs allegiance be to our queeen, or should it be to their constituents, the taxpayers who pay their wages?

Fortunately they face no such constraints in Ireland, and last week they became the largest party, in terms of the popular vote. So my winner, this week, is Mary Lou McDonald and her party. They received 24½%, the largest share of the many Irish parties.

[I don’t fully understand the Irish system, but this “only” translates to 37 seats in Ireland’s 160-seat parliament, the same number of seats as the second-placed Fianna Fáil party (even though they received more votes). Mathematically speaking, that doesn’t quite add up. But as I see political systems around the world, it is not uncommon to see a country’s popular vote getting stitched up by its political system, which was generally been built to suit the main parties. So, even when those main parties lose popularity, it is hard for anybody else to join the party.]

The election result is resonates in the UK too, where some people are prone just to dismiss Sinn Féin as terrorists, because of its role opposing the UK’s occupation of Northern Ireland. A quarter of Irish voters, not only do they not see Sinn Féin as terrorists, but they see them as the party most fit to govern their country.

The three “big” parties, between them, received around 70% of the popular vote. Fourth were the Greens, at about 10%. There then followed a host of smaller parties – I think I counted twelve of them, some who won seats, others who didn’t. Lastly there were twenty successful independent candidates, so the independent voice still has a role in Irish politics.

Although Sinn Féin came first overall, the numbers mean that they probably won’t get a chance to form a government. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael both said, pre-election, that they would not enter a coalition with Sinn Féin. That’s not really surprising, because they are at different ends of the spectrum. And if they join forces, they can keep Sinn Féin out. But who knows? They might change their minds, now that the results are in and they have a whiff of power? Some horses to be traded!

Mary Lou McDonald

Who Won The Week (9 February 2020)

I have Fandango to thank for this title – he has been posting regularly on this subject from his west-coast-USA vantage point. I am interested in current affairs too, and normally have some nonsense or other to spout about one of the UK’s topical news stories. So, I like to join in. Maybe there’s something in your world that you’d like to post about?

Just over a week ago, the UK left the EU – I wanted to let the dust settle a bit before I commented. I have previously expressed that I wanted to leave, just because their level of “democracy” was not good enough, in my book. Frankly, if the EU is happy to let its commissioners and officials be appointed, then I wish them well, but their system is not for me. As far as I am concerned, though, what we have just done is to solve half of the problem, in that we have just one government instead of two. But we still have half of the job still to do, so our leaving was no more than a waypoint toward reforming the UK political landscape as well.

I always accepted that my view was unusual. Other people voted for Brexit for all sorts of different reasons – to control immigration, or to gain some illusion of sovreignty, but not me. I actually support immigration (I was once an immigrant myself in the USA) and we’ll see exactly how much sovreignty we have when we start negotiating agreements with other countries. So, I am used to being the only guy in the room to hold the views I hold. You guys probably already worked that one out 🙂.

Even in our recent election, our winner takes all voting system means that quite a low number of voters’ views are actually represented in Parliament. Where I live (Salisbury) the vote share of the winning candidate was 56%. Which eagle-eyed readers will realise, means that 44% of voters picked someone else, and if you happened to be one of those 44%, tough. Your views don’t count.

That’s where I live. Actually, as far as the UK goes, my situation is quite clear-cut. In the constituency of North East Fife (Scotland), in 2017, their representative was elected with just 33% of the vote share (there were several candidates who split the rest of the vote), just 2 votes clear of the second-place candidate.

The bottom line here is that I am dissatisfied with our system – to have a situation where more than two-thirds of people, their view is just discarded – it needs to be better. I’m quite open on what system we should use, but to my thinking it should be one which represents as close to 100% of voters as possible. I don’t think representing just 33%, or even 56%, comes anywhere close. People defend our system by saying that it gives decisive politics. Well, if you exclude more and more people from the process, sooner or later what you’re left with will be decisive, won’t it?

Anyway, at the risk of digressing, my winner of the week, this week, is … well … me! Because I read a report this week which told me that I am not as alone as I first thought. Enter the Centre for the Future of Democracy, from the University of Cambridge.

Data has been collected in various of the big “democracies” since the early 1970s, regarding people’s satisfaction with their system. And organisations like the Centre for the Future of Democracy came along to collate this data.

Okay, after the headline grabbed my attention, my very first question was how do you measure when someone’s satisfied or not? Apparently these guys have collated several surveys spanning the world’s foremost democracies, based ultimately on YouGov polling. In all, four million people took part over 25 countries. Globally, I don’t think 4 million is a whole lot of people but it gives a sense of how people – a cross-section, at least – are feeling.

The UK is one of those places where data exists going back all that time. Satisfaction with the system was quite low by the end of the Seventies (Winter of Discontent), but grew steadily throughut the Eighties and Nineties, to a peak in 2005, immediately before the crash. Since then, we just can’t get no satisfaction. It has all been downhill, and 2019 was the lowest yet. In 2019, 60% of UK respondents said that they were dissatisfied with the current system.

But this isn’t just the UK. The same trend is being seen in other large democracies such as the USA, Mexico, Brazil and Australia. All also at their lowest points yet. Two-thirds of voters were satisfied with US-flavoured democracy in 1995, but that too is now less that half. Other countries not doing so well include Spain and Japan.

It’s not all bad, though. There is a sweet spot in central Europe – countries singled out included Denmark, Switzerland, Norway and the Netherlands – where the political systems appear to be working for their voters. Same in parts of Asia, to a lesser extent.

You want better politics? You want to feel like your voice makes a difference? You’re not alone! As for so-called democracies, the report uses the word malaise. It’s maybe not the word I’d have chosen, but these are Cambridge academics, after all. So, call me big-headed if you like, but I won the week because I learned that there are lots of people who, like me, want better systems of government.