The Obscurer

Month: November, 2004

Environmental Arithmetic

Apparently, the weather for the rest of this month is likely to be “spring-like”, following that cold snap last weekend. It has certainly confused a ceanothus bush near where I live, which already has some of its bright blue horse-cake blossom on its branches. But nowadays, what is meant by spring-like?

My wife was born on the 21st of March; the first day of spring. On the day she was born, so the story goes, her father was sledging in Lyme Park. Two years ago, on her birthday, we were sat by the banks of Windermere, having a drink in the beer garden of the Wateredge Inn, Ambleside, on a sweltering hot day.

Is this evidence of global warming? Obviously not, not by itself. I should say now that I am not a fully signed up member of the environmental brigade; I do think that spring is getting earlier and winter milder, as many phrenologists suggest, but I do wonder at times if this is just due to getting older. Everyone thinks winters were colder and snowier when they were young. On the other hand, I still find myself tutting when I hear global warming referred to on the news as if it were pure scientific fact; I know that there is still debate in the scientific community on the matter. What surprises me more, though, is the number of non-scientists who are absolutely convinced that global warming is a fantasy, that it is “junk science”. Even as a non-scientist myself I know enough to believe that the basic theory makes sense, even if the evidence itself may not be conclusive.

Some people argue that there is nothing to suggest that global warming is a problem, but this is nonsense; there is rucks of evidence. Whether or not you believe it is another matter, and of course, there is also evidence which suggests that all is well. I am not qualified to argue the science, but I do wonder why people as unqualified as I am seem so sure that there is nothing to worry about. For some people, it seems all it takes if for them to hear “environmentalists warn that…” and they have heard enough. They already disagree with what the environmentalists think, whatever it is they are about to say.

It is argued that the temperature of the Earth is constantly changing over time, and so why are we concerned? It is true, of course, that the Earth at times has been much warmer than it is now; but as I understand it, one of the reasons the Earth cooled down was that there was a massive growth of forests across the planet billions of years ago; in other words, the reverse of the greenhouse effect which is currently the concern. But even then, just because the Earth temperature fluctuates, does that not mean that we can seek to influence it, if that is for the benefit of mankind? Or should we just sit around and accept it; perhaps we should tear down our flood defences while we are at it, on the basis that if it floods it floods and it is all a perfectly natural state of affairs?

Another often heard argument is a simple one; that of course global warming doesn’t exist, or if it does then it is a natural phenomenon, because it is ridiculous to think than mankind can effect his environment to such a degree. But why not? We have it in our power to blow the world up many times over, to chop down every tree and to use up every natural resource on the planet. Of course we can effect the environment; you don’t surely need to be a scientist to see that.

George Monbiot, who, unlike me, certainly is an environmentalists, wrote an interesting article regarding a couple of studies often cited by the critics of global warming. One is the “petition produced in 1998 by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine and ‘signed by over 18,000 scientists'”. This, according to David Bellamy, shows that “the link between the burning of fossil fuels and global warming is a myth”. This petition is often produced to debunk global warming; sadly, according to Monbiot, the signatories include Geri Halliwell and (even more bizarrely) the cast of M*A*S*H.

“Its petition was attached to what purported to be a scientific paper, printed in the font and format of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In fact, the paper had not been peer-reviewed or published in any scientific journal. Anyone could sign the petition, and anyone did: only a handful of the signatories are experts in climatology, and quite a few of them appear to have believed that they were signing a genuine paper. And yet, six years later, this petition is still being wheeled out to suggest that climatologists say global warming isn’t happening.”

Later in the same article Monbiot refers to another report, by Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish statistician. This report does not deny that global warming is happening, or indeed that it can be prevented, just that it is not worth bothering. Monbiot writes that “Lomborg claimed to have calculated that global warming will cause $5 trillion of damage, and would cost $4 trillion to ameliorate. The money, he insisted, would be better spent elsewhere.” Monbiot counters that

“The idea that we can attach a single, meaningful figure to the costs incurred by global warming is laughable. Climate change is a non-linear process, whose likely impacts cannot be totted up like the expenses for a works outing to the seaside. Even those outcomes we can predict are impossible to cost. We now know, for example, that the Himalayan glaciers which feed the Ganges, the Bramaputra, the Mekong, the Yangtze and the other great Asian rivers are likely to disappear within 40 years. If these rivers dry up during the irrigation season, then the rice production which currently feeds over one third of humanity collapses, and the world goes into net food deficit.”

Now, unlike George Monbiot, I do not know what will happen to the Himalayan glaciers in the next 40 years, and I dare say another study will contradict this claim. And in fairness to Lomborg, his article in The Times does argue for action on global warming; just that the Kyoto Protocol is not a particularly effective way of doing it. But he also admits that some people “only pay attention to half of what I say about global warming”. They find his cost/benefit analysis argues against action; this is all they need to decide we should not bother to tackle global warming.

And I think it is this attitude, that people can’t be bothered, that explains such antagonism in the face of common sense. People can’t be bothered to be careful about non-renewable resources like oil, and so we just rattle along using up resources as if there is no tomorrow; but there will be. People can’t be bothered to recycle plastics and metals, even though everyone knows these things cannot last forever. People can’t be bothered not to dump things in a landfill, even thought it is clear we cannot carry on doing this. And I am as bad; by son is a little landfill site all of his own thanks to his nappies; although considering the contents of a used nappy, you would thing a biodegradable one would be an ideal compost (I even saw someone once arguing against recycling and for landfill, saying that landfill is just a type of compost; but I am not sure what nutrient value the land would get from an empty tin of beans and an old bottle of Coke wrapped inside a bin liner). So people are not bothered; they don’t want to go to the bottle bank, they don’t want to stop driving their cars, they are happy to use 12 carrier bags per trip to Tesco, they don’t want any further costs put on businesses, and they certainly don’t want to be told what to do by a load of sandal-wearing doom-mongers talking about how many of our essential natural resources will start drying up by the middle of the century.

Personally, the prospect of fossil fuels running out is not too much of a concern for me; it’s not as if it is a thing of beauty which we need to keep in the ground for posterity, and as it runs out and it becomes more difficult to extract, I would imagine the price will rise until the cost of alternative, renewable resources becomes more attractive. As more people switch to renewables then economies of scale will lead to price cuts for solar panels, wind turbines and so on. I may be being naive, but with a bit of luck I think we will be alright.

But just a minute; what am I talking about? When fossil fuels run out and we are all forced to switch to renewable resources? When that happens, won’t it mean that the alleged main cause of global warming will have disappeared? Panic over? That makes sense doesn’t it? Is this all a little too simple, or have I missed something?


Oil And Water

For some strange reason, the cricket tour between England and Zimbabwe appears to be back on. How bizarre.

I must admit, the reason it had been called off, for refusing to admit some British sports journalists into Zimbabwe, seemed a bit odd. When in Zimbabwe there are routine human rights abuses, where people are being systematically starved, where political opponents and journalists are summarily arrested and intimidated, and where newspaper offices are smashed up and closed down, it seems weird that preventing Jonathan Agnew from describing a Michael Vaughan cover drive becomes a matter of press freedom and morality. As a reason to stop the tour, it seems a poor excuse.

But it was, at least, an excuse. So why wasn’t it used? I understand that this is a difficult matter for all the parties involved. The Government is reluctant to intervene without something like the Gleneagles Agreement in place, which related to playing sport in apartheid South Africa; the Zimbabwe tour is perhaps more analogous with the Moscow Olympics in 1980, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when the British government disapproved of, but did not prevent, British athletes from competing. You can also understand how the ECB, in a cash strapped sport, does not want to take a financial hit from not playing the matches; although following the problems they had during the Cricket World Cup, I can hardly believe we are back in the same position today. Perhaps if more of the players had acted like Steve Harmison and refused to tour, and the team that turned up was so poor that I could have snuck in as reserve wicket keeper, then that would have sent some sort of message; according to Des Wilson, former chairman of the ECB’s corporate affairs and marketing advisory committee, writing in The Guardian (via Normblog), the players themselves do not want to play. In all then, the refusal by the Zimbabwe authorities to accredit British journalists surely presented all concerned with the perfect get out. A simple statement could be issued by the ECB that this was unacceptable, that the tour was off, and that the England team were now concentrating on the forthcoming matches against South Africa; then they could unplug the phone. End of story. The British government could then strongly condemn the action by the Zimbabwe authorities, in a hope that this would spare the ECB a fine from the ICC, while in private they could assure the ECB that they would not be out of pocket if this tack failed. There is always the chance the the ICC would then step in to try to resolve the matter, in which case the ECB simply sticks it fingers in its ears and sings “la-la-la, not listening”. Sorted.

Instead, David Morgan, the ECB Chairman, speaking on Channel 4 news last night, spoke of how hard he had tried to resolve the matter; he had been successful, the British journalists were back in, and the tour was on. Hooray. Why did he bother? Why not just call it a draw? You have to wonder, does he actually want the tour to go ahead?

Perhaps, like many, he is of the opinion that sport and politics do not mix; but they are not like oil and water. For one thing, all sporting bodies are, to some extent, political organisations. For another, sport is a great propaganda tool. Hitler tried it with the 1936 Olympics. China will try it with the 2008 Olympics.

All countries, when they host some sort of major tournament, hope there will be some sort of economic or political dividend. South Africa used to practice racism in sport, and used rebel tours in Cricket to combat its international pariah status as a nation. Zimbabwe is doing the same. I just don’t see why we appear to be fighting tooth and nail to assist the Mugabe regime, even in something as essentially trivial as sport.

Spanish Lessons

The headlines concerning the racist abuse meted out to Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips last night have neatly obscured the England football teams very poor showing against Spain yesterday. However, the racism on display does merit some comment I think; certainly more than the England team’s performance, which I am happy to gloss over.

In many ways the actions of the crowd were a throwback to fifteen years ago or more, when racist chanting was commonplace in England. There have been predictable calls for the Spanish Football Federation to gets its house in order, and for FIFA and UEFA to take strong action. There is, implicit in this, a sort of pride amongst English commentators at how racist chanting has been tackled in this country, and how successful the action taken by the authorities and the “Let’s Kick Racism Out Of Football” campaign has been here. I wonder, however, just what the Spanish can do to prevent this sort of thing. Luis Aragones, the Spanish manager, could certainly do more; a statement condemning the chanting would be a step in the right direction, and he certainly hasn’t set a good example to the fans with his well reported comments on Thierry Henry. But if the problem is as widespread across Spain as is suggested by Carlos Ferreyra Nunez, co-ordinator of Spain’s “United Against Racism” group, then the odd stupid comment by the national manager is unlikely to make much difference. The problem surely is a cultural one.

What should the Spanish do then; should they take a leaf out of the English book? If so, it is useful to remember what the situation was like in this country a few years ago. Personally, I don’t recall hearing any racist chanting when I first started going to watch Manchester City many, many years ago, at least from the home fans. Were City fans a remarkably tolerant lot? Not at all. You certainly heard racist comments, as you do everywhere, then as now. There was, however, always the sickening sound of the crowd hissing whenever we played Spurs; to the uninitiated, I should explain that Spurs are identified by some as being a Jewish club, and the hissing (scarcely believable as you may find it) was a reference to the gas chambers, to the holocaust. So no, City fans were far from perfect; they just didn’t make monkey noises.

Still, it came as quite a shock one day when I went to watch Newcastle United at St James’s Park. I was at a boring conference in Gateshead, and by day three I was so fed up I decided to bugger off to watch Newcastle play Sheffield United in a top of the table clash in the old old Second Division. I was stood in the famous Gallowgate End, and I think my mate and I were the only two people who didn’t chant every time Brian Deane or Tony Agana touched the ball. It seemed as if the whole crowd was a seething pit of racial hatred.

How was this situation turned around? Where has all the racism gone? Have the FA, the “Lets Kick Racism…” movement and the Government managed to persuade the Newcastle fans of the evils of racism? They probably haven’t done any harm, but the biggest catalyst for change with the Newcastle fans was probably the signing of Andy Cole. It is pretty silly making monkey noises at the opposition when you have you own black player. This is probably why racist chanting was never a problem at Man City, even though Anti-Semitic hissing was; City were in the vanguard of introducing black players into their team, so the bigots just never got a chance to throw their bananas. Dave Hill’s wonderful book “Out of his Skin” chronicles how John Barnes’s transfer to Liverpool miraculously rid them of their racism problem. He is also particularly good in commenting on how complicit the press were; how, with the odd notable exception, racist abuse was just ignored back in the dark days, a sharp contrast to the moral hand-wringing we see today when the press are happy to criticise the Spanish. Interestingly, Nunez makes the same complaint about the current Spanish media “generally sidestepping the racism issue”. The signing of John Barnes by Liverpool also showed their Merseyside rivals Everton in sharp relief at the time, and for a while they were considered one of England’s most racist clubs. They probably weren’t, they just didn’t happen to have any black players; but Earl Barrett amongst others changed all that.

I am not sure, then, as to what lessons the Spanish can actually learn from the English example, or how they should tackle their own problems. Of course racist chanting should be condemned, that goes without saying; but as I have stated, I am not sure quite what effect well meaning anti-racism campaigns actually achieve.

There may be specific Spanish problems, such as Nunez’s allegation that domestic managers fuel “the problem by giving tickets to passionate ‘ultra right-wing’ fans”, which may need to be tackled. But ultimately football is just a part of society: if there is racism in society, then there will be racism on the terraces.

And it would be complacent to think that we have solved all of our problems in this country; racism is still about, it just doesn’t manifest itself in the chanting of the crowd. Personally, where I sit to watch City, in the rarefied atmosphere of the East Stand Upper Tier, you barely even hear the sick chants of “Munich ’58” anymore, thank God; but then you don’t hear much chanting of any kind anymore, since the move to all seater stadia. The clamp down on hooliganism in general has also resulted in some of the nastier elements of society remaining outside the ground, so overt racism inside the ground is probably reduced as a consequence. But racism is still about in our society, it is just that to some extent we have moved on; Kosovan, Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers are more likely targets for racial hatred these days.

But for now, let’s all concentrate on the failings of the Spanish, eh? For one thing, it may all be of assistance to London in its Olympic Bid; there have already been comments questioning how Madrid can be awarded the 2012 games after the behaviour of their fans. This is great news, following on, as it does, from the New York bid supposedly being damaged because the American TV networks didn’t cover the Paralympics. It is beginning to look like two down, two to go; now all we need is for Russia to force all female athletes into being housewives who are chained to their domestic appliances, and for France to make it illegal for homosexuals to play sport, and that should deal with the Moscow and Paris bids. Then hey presto; the field is left clear for London 2012, home of the first politically correct Olympic Games.

Two Poems By Kipling

for Remembrance Sunday


They shall not return to us, the resolute, the young,
The eager and whole-hearted whom we gave:
But the men who left them thriftily to die in their own dung,
Shall they come with years and honour to the grave?

They shall not return to us; the strong men coldly slain
In sight of help denied from day to day:
But the men who edged their agonies and chid them in their pain,
Are they too strong and wise to put away?

Our dead shall not return to us while Day and Night divide –
Never while the bars of sunset hold.
But the idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died,
Shall they thrust for high employments as of old?

Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour?
When the storm is ended shall we find
How softly but how swiftly they have sidled back to power
By the favour and contrivance of their kind?

Even while they soothe us, while they promise large amends,
Even while they make a show of fear,
Do they call upon their debtors, and take counsel with their friends,
To conform and re-establish each career?

Their lives cannot repay us – their death could not undo –
The shame that they have laid upon our race.
But the slothfulness that wasted and the arrogance that slew,
Shall we leave it unabated in its place?

A Dead Statesman

I could not dig: I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young.

North, South, East, West

I am indebted to Laban Tall’s “UK Commentators” Blog which features this post regarding the brutal and chilling racist murder of 15 year old Kriss Donald. For those who don’t know (which included me prior to reading this blog), the murder occurred last March in Glasgow when 5 Asian males went looking for a white male who matched the description of the offender in a bottle attack the previous evening. They found Kriss, who was standing with friends when he was forcibly abducted, driven to a remote spot, held down over a log and stabbed thirteen times before being set alight whilst still alive. The news reports make truly horrifying reading.

Why has this story not been headline news across the national media? Tall argues that the media in general, and the BBC, Independent and Guardian in particular, along with Trevor Phillips, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Refugee Council would have made this incident a major story if it had been an example of white males murdering an Asian teenager. However, as the victim is a “Native Brit”, Tall says

“don’t look for : blanket coverage on the Today programme, Radio 5 and TV news, op-eds in all newspapers, memorial stones, community centres or new colleges, Commissions of Enquiry, official reports, consultations with the Home Secretary, police confessions of incompetence, resignations, High Court Judges asking why the suspects escaped justice, compensation for the victims parents or changes to police and court procedures.”

We shall see how some of this turns out but you can certainly see where Tall is coming from. There often seems to be an assumption that only non-whites are victims of racism, and indeed that anti-racist measures and legislation are only there to benefit non-whites. If the media are happy not to cover this murder in depth, then they leave a gap which the BNP will be only too happy to fill. Regarding Tall’s particular singling out of the liberal media, however; shocked at what I read in Tall’s post I decided to do a quick “Google News” search for stories related to Kriss’s murder, and I found that while there was in fact a great deal of coverage of this case, the story was similarly ignored by the right-wing media. There was, though, extensive coverage in the Glasgow Evening Times, The Scotsman, the Daily Record, STV, ic Scotland and the BBC (Scotland). Disgracefully, other than the BNP, no non-Scottish organisation thought this story merited a mention, at least according to the search I carried out. I wonder, therefore if this is infact an example of pro-English bias on the part of the “National” media? It certainly won’t be the first example; as someone who is a half-Scottish Northerner perhaps I am particularly sensitive to this sort of thing, but often the National media is anything but National in outlook. A minor, everyday example is the way Morrisons is always referred to as the “Northern supermarket chain”, but Waitrose is never referred to as “Southern”. Similarly, a few years ago, the massive snowstorms which descended on the Eastern side of Britain only became a top news story when they hit London.

Now I am not going to dwell on this North-South thing for too long because I hate it. As a Mancunian, I personally think that London is probably my second favourite city in the world (after Barcelona), and I would happily holiday in Cornwall every year if I could. And you won’t hear me going on about how much friendlier us Northerners are than soft Southerners, because from personal experience that is total bollocks. However, even allowing for my own bias, there does often seem to be a pro-England/South East/London thing going on in the media.

Whether this is the reason for the tragedy of Kriss Donald’s murder being ignored, or whether the reason is double standards regarding white victims of racism, or indeed if it is a mix of the two, I do not know for sure. However you look at it, though, our National media has let us down. I will have to follow the Scottish media to see how the case progresses.

Update 18/11/04: Man guilty of Kriss race murder