Gold divers and diazepam pens

What’s up with the world today?

Bread and circuses news: ‘Britain’ ‘won’ three gold medals in Rio yesterday. Actually, it was three people representing Britain … in a sense … who won three medals. In that they are young, fit and committed, they aren’t exactly representative of me or most people I know, none of whom took the time to watch them. Nevertheless, this news is wall-to-wall on every news website and dead tree outlet. You’d think we were insecure or something.

Running out of tunes news: Ed Sheeran, whoever he is, is being sued for plagiarising a Marvin Gaye track. Maybe we’re just running out of good tunes. Wasn’t there someone in the 18th century who went mad worrying about that?

Hillary health news: Some people are worried about Mrs Clinton’s brain function. On top of more-than-slightly odd behaviours on camera, the potential next leader of the free world appears to be accompanied by a minder with a diazepam pen. That’s used to treat fitting and mini seizures. Hope she’s all right. It’s a bit more of an important question than who’s best at falling gracefully from a 3m diving board. But for whatever reason the mainstream media won’t ask it.

Purple-faced news: Surveyors are saying that UK house prices paused for breath in July. It was Brexit, not the fact that the pool of buyers able to stomach stratospherically high prices is drying up. Yeah, right. Prices will soon be rising again, surveyors assure us. Could that be people whose fees are a percentage of their valuations talking their own book? Yes or yes?

Pushing on a string news: While athletes born and trained in Britain were winning athletic events at an athletic tournament in Brazil, the Bank of England was missing its bond-buying target in the latest round of QE. Seems the pension funds, at whose desperate plight this money printing bonanza is directed, inconsiderately failed anticipate the event and allowed their top people to go on holiday. In August. Can you imagine that? Your money. Safe in their hands.

Dreadful news: Tens of thousands of Nepalis are still living in squalid conditions a year after the earthquake. On top of muddle and corruption among officials, victims have been hit by an economic blockade imposed by India.

Helicopter hyperbole news: One paper is calling yesterday’s helicopter incident in Wales “The miracle touchdown”. No it wasn’t. There was a mechanical problem. The pilot set down safely on an open moor. Everyone got out before fire took hold and destroyed the aircraft. The story doesn’t even attempt to justify the headline. Which is par for the course these days.

Safe in their hands news: Hospitals in Middlesex, Devon, Lancashire and Shropshire are considering shutting A&E departments for lack of funds. They haven’t got enough staff. Their costs are rising faster than their incomes. But staff are the biggest cost and staff numbers are falling. So where’s the money going? Ah, that would be all those back-end-loaded PFI deals. Hospitals are getting what Tony Blair got paid for.

Habit of a lifetime news: Hard to believe it but the BBC is actually going to try to stop presenting misleading statistics. I know, I know. Some people think that is the BBC’s job. It says here that presenters will be urged to tell us when there’s no evidence to back up a claim, instead of giving us a “he said/she said” debate between two competing spokesmen. Three-quarters of stats from politicians quoted in BBC news stories come from the governing party, too. Will this be the end of meaningless tit-for-tat interviews instead of proper news analysis? Unlike the housing market I’m not holding my breath.

Green news: It was algae what done it. Turned the Olympic diving pool green. “Harmless” claim the organisers after the filtration system broke. “Not so sure about that,” says a tight-lipped spokesman for the UK Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group.

Vetus causa bellandi news: They’ve found a British steamship sunk in an arctic river in Russia. It sank 140 years ago and regional media say its the discovery of the year. Elements in Washington are hoping to find an excuse to start a war with Mr Putin over the loss of the vessel.

Clutching at straws news: Utterly aghast at having to live with a Republican presidential candidate they neither own nor control, America’s elite are going all out to diss Donald. His badly-phrased comment on the power of the gun lobby was immediately seized on as a thinly-veiled incitement for #2A-ers to assassinate his rival. Now that a day has gone by, the papers feel able to drop the scare quotes around “assassinate” and proceed as if that’s what he specifically said. While they studiously ignore the issue of Clinton’s physiological brain functions.

Red relations and green water

So what’s new in the world?

Big news: Theresa May says its time to repair relations with Russia. That’s sticking it to A LOT of people, here and especially in the US. How the UK right wing media, who’ve been dutifully following the neocon line these past years, will take it remains to be seen.

Little news: The Olympic diving pool in Rio turned soupy green overnight. Global warming? Bad plumbing? A spell?

Bad news: Trump ‘jokingly’ hints that good ol’ boys might exercise their gun rights to ‘stop’ Hillary. As The Donald is the candidate most likely to be ‘stopped’ that way by Dark Forces from deep in the state, it’s hardly a funny line. Anyway, everyone knows that Clinton couldn’t and wouldn’t do anything to upset gun owners.

Chew news: Dogs in Britain are getting less fertile for the same reason as Californian condors are. It’s their diet, which is increasingly laden with toxins from the environment. Who’s next? People? That’s what the stories are saying.

Painful news: A hospital in Lincolnshire may have to close its A&E at night. One in Liverpool is planning to stop routine operations and axe its IVF programme. Staffing and funds are at the root of the problems. Actually, that’s more or less the same thing. No money, no staff. No-one’s saying so but the hot money would have to be on PFI repayments sucking the life out of the Trusts running them. No wonder those shadowy financiers gratefully funnel so much money to Tony.

Saucy news: HP Sauce is the favourite brand of Brexit voters. They also like Bisto, Birds Eye, Cathedral City and Richmond sausages (is the last one a brand?). Remain voters like BBC.co.uk, iPlayer, Instagram, Spotify,  London Underground, AirBnB, Virgin Trains and EasyJet. Obvious conclusion: Brexiteers are salt of the earth types, though probably somewhat prone to body odour. Remainers are masochistic, narcissitic  metropolitanites with their heads in the Cloud. Less obvious conclusion: remainers’ brand choices are ”progressive, up to date, visionary, innovative, socially responsible [EasyJet???], intelligent.”  You’d never have guessed that the conclusions were drawn by a bunch of metropolitan ad-men and the story appeared on BBC.co.uk

Tippy-toes news: Will Young is the second celebrity to make the line up for Strictly Come Dancing. No, I don’t know what any of that means. Nor the name of the first celebrity.

Repent at leisure news: More than a third of recent graduates regret having gone to uni. Reason? A bucket-load of student debt to pay off (average £44,000) and jobs that give them an average monthly disposable income of £160. Funny how the media that’s endlessly cheered for universal student debt, sorry, degrees for all, is all of a sudden discovering what a complete crock Tony’s companion debt-wheeze to PFI was bound to turn into.

Quis custodiat? news: Yesterday all the stories were about the Competition and Markets Authority giving the banks a hearty slap over their treatment of customers. Today, everyone’s suddenly discovered that it amounts to little more than a loud ‘tut’. Needless to say, the job of policing banks’ better behaviour has been left with … the banks.

Who that? news: Charles W Sweeney. Now, if I’d written Paul Tibbett, people would have got it easily. Yesterday was the anniversary of the atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki. It would have been tomorrow but the weather forecast was apparently bad. Sweeney flew the plane –  whose name no-one remembers either.

Shouty Americans news: Trump is reckless and not qualified to be a US president, say republicans. Apparently that means he’s not a complete two-faced puppet of corporate interests who’ll go back on all his promises as soon as he’s elected. Anyway, aren’t all the Republican high-ups promising to vote for Hillary?

We’ll never hear the last of this news: Tesla driver gets chest pains. Puts car in ‘auto pilot’ mode and it drives him 20 miles to hospital. He’s treated for a dangerous blood clot. Fans of autonomous cars will be all over that one like a rash. Anyone want to give me £60k to buy a Tesla?

Turn back 10 pages news: Tomorrow’s graduates will be applying for jobs working in virtual worlds and outer space, according to ‘experts.’ Future careers will include Virtual Habitual Designers, Ethical Technology Advocates, Space Tour Guides (I kid you not, these people will “use their knowledge to construct visits to the more interesting parts of Earth’s orbit”), and Personal Content Curators. The latter will manage software-brain interfaces, organising thoughts and memories for fellow graduates who are too busy spending their meagre £160 monthly disposable income and worrying about their student debt to think for themselves.

Don’t cry for me Fukushima

The race to rehabilitate radiation continues apace at everyone’s favourite Deep State mouthpiece, the BBC.

After Tuesday’s inept attempt on the Today programme to push the case for cutting-down safety levels at the forthcoming (possibly) Hinckley Point C nuke, the PM Programme yesterday ran a slicker piece from – where else? – Fukushima, basically saying that everyone has overreacted to the 2011 post-tsunami radiation escape there.

This time, though, the expert on hand was actually a qualified scientist with a track record in studying the effects of radiation on people.

Professor Geraldine Thomas, of Imperial College, crunched through the wreckage of a home abandoned in the Fukushima exclusion zone in the company of its owner and the BBC’s Tokyo reporter, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes.

Her verdict: although the average radiation level in the zone is 50% higher than the normal background dose you get everywhere, that’s not enough to harm anyone. Implication: don’t worry, rebuild, go home.

From a propaganda point of view, the only bum note was struck by Rupert W-H as he signed off saying: “If the danger from radiation is being exaggerated then it is making the human tragedy at Fukushima much worse than it should be.”

Should be? It’s so BBC to inadvertently imply that there’s a scale of how tragic, costly and terrifying a nuclear accident can be before it’s considered de trop by the powers that be.

Keywords

As the Absorb-a-Millisievert-with-a-Smile campaign develops, keen observers should watch out for certain keywords including ‘death’, ‘radiation’ and ‘on-site’. On Tuesday I though it was a mistake for the pro-nuke person to mention Fukushima but I was wrong.

The idea seems to be to turn ‘Fukushima’ into a shorthand for a situation where the public danger from radiation can be spun as turning out to be less bad than first feared (or, in spin talk, ‘was grossly exaggerated’). Where no-one died from radiation exposure, at least off-site. And where evacuating can be portrayed as causing far more death, misery and destruction than radiation – never mind that reactor buildings are burning and exploding at the time, or that no-one on the site can get at them or to the spent fuel pools.

If the debate over Hinckley Point C’s safety levels can be framed in this way, they can marginalise awareness of many other real issues such as the idiotic cost of the project and the potential scale of non-fatal health impacts from a future accident.

For those, you have to look back past Fukushima to Chernobyl, whose 30th anniversary on 26th April must now seem uncomfortably close to the pro-nuclear lobby. It’s surprisingly hard to get a handle on the scale and geographical spread of issues such as birth defects and genetic disorders arising from the Chernobyl accident. The World Health Organisation has put the potential toll of premature deaths as 4,000 although many believe the WHO’s estimate to be much too low.

Time will tell. But when someone rocks up on Today in year or two, saying a corners-cut version of Fukushima is good enough for Hinckley C if it saves a billion, just nod along with them and say “What could go wrong with that?”

The extraordinarily good record of the nuclear industry

Woke up yesterday morning to hear someone on the BBC Today programme seriously suggesting that we should weaken nuclear safety standards to make atomic power more affordable.

It was in a segment (starts 50 minutes in) pegged to the continuing woes afflicting Hinkley Point C.

To recap quickly, the finance director of intended plant-builder EDF Energy resigned on Monday. Why? Well, he judges Hinckley C’s financial prospects to be so dire that they’ll sink his company if the project goes ahead. And that’s in spite of vast taxpayer subsidies, a guarantee of extortionate electricity tariffs and that ‘we saw you coming’ price tag of £18 billion – half the bill for HS2 for one power station.

The air is tremulous with the sound of huge bets going massively wrong. The bet on unlocking loads of (some … any?) domestic natural gas via fracking. The bet on a ‘friendly’ gas pipeline from the Gulf – a bet that’s a big reason for the desperate brawl tearing up Syria. The bet that nuclear power might ever provide affordable AND SAFE base load electricity.

As unpalatable situations go, this one is up there with a decomposing frog sandwich. Procrastination, wishful thinking and willingly doing the Neocons’ bidding have got the UK exactly where you’d expect. Which is:

  • Plan A. Pour blood into sand for years to come in an unwinable play-off for oil and gas between the US-dominated bloc, the Gulf states, Russia and the many – often overlapping – proxies of all three.
  • Plan B. Pay whatever ransom is demanded by anyone capable of building us a nuclear power plant.
  • Plan C. Anyone got a plan C?

Now, we know the BBC could no more allude to a state of affairs in which Plan A exists than it can ever come to terms with its high-level culpability for the long reigns at Broadcasting House of Jimmy Savile and other molesters of the airwaves.

That leaves the option of selling – sorry ‘examining the issue of’ – Plan B. So with the first hour of Today rapidly closing in on the weather, Sarah Montague introduced a ‘nuclear specialist’ to discuss the ballooning price tag for Hinckley Point C. What, she asked, Malcolm Grimston of the Centre for Energy Policy and Technology, makes it so costly?

”It is a big plant. It is going to generate 7% of our electricity. But nonetheless what we have seen is, as safety system is piled on top of safety system, this has become enormously complex as well as having a vast number of pumps and valves and the like associated with that.”

Right, ‘pumps and valves and things like that.’ Easily explains why Britain’s next nuke could cost, what, £20 billion allowing for the inevitable overruns.

OK, let’s forgive the shaky start. Doing live radio can be a tough gig at ten to seven in the morning.

Mr Grimston had another run at explaining why nuke safety has got out of hand and ought to be reined in to keep the price down:

“Given that the safety record of nuclear power is so extraordinarily good – I mean a single accident in the whole of its history that has had health impacts off site – I’m sceptical as to whether this is really the way forward,” he began.

Woah! How do you jumble up the letters F-U-K-U-S-H-M-A and C-H-E-R-N-O-B-Y-L and come up with ‘extraordinarily good safety record’?

nuke-accident

Had Today introduced Mr Grimston as what he is, that is a career-long PR person and advocate for the nuclear industry, this would have been the moment for the presenter (note the term) to go for his attempted spin like the Beast of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh savaging Sir Lancelot.

Instead, apparently for the benefit of not-quite-awake-yet listeners, Montague fed him a neat summary of the pitch he was there to sell:

“So are you saying that we should remove some of these layers of safety to ensure that the next generation of nuclear plants are built?”

Grimston:

“Well I think you have to reach a level of safety – which I think we have reached in the nuclear industry – whereby the chance of an accident is extremely small. But we learnt from Fukushima that, actually, the health effects of nuclear accidents are not the radiation – nobody, certainly off site, and probably even on site at Fukushima – is … we’re not going to be able to detect anybody dying as a result of radiation … the evacuation has killed an awful lot of people.”

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. It’s so easy to do. I know I have. A friendly ‘presenter’ lobs you a ridiculously soft ball just before they cut to to the weather and you not only fluff it, you end up mangling your message until it looks like the shredded, bloody leftovers from lunch with the Rabbit of Caerbannog.

DON’T MENTION FUKUSHIMA. Yes, no-one’s (yet) apparently been killed by radiation there. But many people died during the emergency evacuation of nearby settlements carried out to avoid exposure to escaping radiation. And two clean-up workers have died of heat-induced heart attacks at the site under the strain of working in full-body radiation protection gear, including masks and helmets covering their entire heads.

Grimston’s claim that “we’re not going to be able to detect anybody dying as a result of radiation” stretches credibility to the absolute limit.

(Sigh). It’s surprising how many take-aways can come out of a two minute slot.

  1. Nuclear accidents do kill people (but not on site, so that’s OK)
  2. ‘Safe’ nuclear plants are stupidly uneconomic to build. But it’s apparently not stupid to reduce safety levels to make them slightly less stupidly uneconomic in the hope that someone will be stupid enough to sign up to build one.
  3. It may be that, like Churchill’s take on democracy, nuclear power is the worst non-fossil-fuel energy option available to us – except for all the others. But if the foregoing lamentable exchange is the best debate the BBC and the industry’s finest spokesperson can come up with, God help anyone hoping to find out.

I’m no expert

A couple of months ago, the BBC accidentally got a real expert to discuss Boko Haram on the Today programme.

Unlike the comical Steve Emerson, the Boko Haram guy did seem to know what he was talking about. He outlined the widely-discussed idea that Boko Haram has been co-opted by elements in Nigeria’s government to serve their own political ends.

It’s an impressively murky situation. Some accuse ‘separatist’ politicians in Boko Haram’s northern Nigerian stamping grounds of backing the terrorists as a way of pressuring the main government. Others accuse southern politicians, high up in the national government, of funding Boko Haram to discredit the notherners while strengthening their own ambitions though fear.

Meanwhile the Western politicians and media (increasingly two sides of the same coin) can’t get past Boko Haram’s Islamist roots, so they funnel moral and financial support to the very elements in Nigerian politics who are allegedly secretly using Boko Haram for their own ends.

None of this narrative sits comfortably with the BBC’s default framing for content involving Islamic extremist groups, which is that ‘we’ are their ultimate target. Muddying the waters with messy details is to be avoided – especially when the details tend to show that a situation isn’t about ‘us’ except to the extent that our Governments are unwittingly (or otherwise) channelling support to one set of bad guys who wear combat fatigues via another set of bad guys who wear expensive suits.

Which is why the BBC’s main news platforms rarely give airtime to informed sources who are close to the action. Whether the topic is HS2, the NHS or terror groups, the Beeb almost invariably aims for its default framing device of two high-level talking heads – either political, corporate, or one of each. They ritually state their more-or-less opposing viewpoints before getting down to the usual arguments about who’s best at delivering growth, healthcare or security.

Imagine the BBC getting a lower-middle grade officer from a health service trust into the studio to describe the mounting monthly payments to Private Finance Initiative companies – some of which receive millions of pounds from taxpayers but don’t even have an address or web site. Ask them how they might do it less expensively. But that would imply that the pundits and politicians don’t know best. That our job as voters is to do more than accept the narrow ‘choices’ they present us with (often so narrow as to be no choice at all) and pick a ‘winner’.

That’s the myth of progress in action. ‘Make the right choice and we’ll deliver more progress, more quickly. Make the wrong one and the Tories/Labour/Lib Dems/UKip/the Greens will hold you back’.

As the Nigeria guy patiently explained, sometimes no one wins. It’s unlikely that Boko Haram and the other militias will go quietly into the good night once the politicians who think they control these groups’ loyalty have achieved their own goals.

They’ll become fully-fledged quasi-criminal, quasi-jihadist, quasi-political armies, funded and protected by members of the corrupt elites whose UK counterparts so often turn up on our TV and radio for the ritual ding-dongs that cover up for lack of action to tackle the grievances that give rise to discontent in the first place.

Framed by the Beeb

The BBC’s policy of framing the aftermath of natural disasters as managerial cock-ups can be seen in its coverage of the Philippines typhoon.

This morning’s Today Programme reporting that the Philippines government had ‘conceded’ that its response to the disaster had been impeded by the colossal scale of the devastation.

That is not very different from a sports report describing a team manager ‘admitting’ that a player with two broken legs and concussion would take longer to recover than if he’d just sprained his wrist.

This is the Beeb’s standard take on major catastrophes. Even when a a country with little wealth and poor communications to begin is ripped apart by fire, flood, wind or earthquake, a BBC reporter will helicopter themselves in within hours to say: “People are asking why the authorities are not acting faster. Why is more not being done?”

I can think of two reasons for framing events this way.

First, the BBC sees itself as a cheerleader for the modern myth of progress, the one that paints Technological Man as the master of Nature. It is just not done to report that some things – for instance a hurricane with the power of a dozen nuclear bombs – are big enough to cramp Man’s style. And it’s unthinkable to report that events of such magnitude destroy government resources as easily as those of citizens.

Second, the framing reinforces the idea that there will always always be a powerful, paternalistic authority on hand, ready to step in instantly if things go wrong. It’s as if the Beeb has a script where uniformed men drive up in lorries loaded with food, tents and medical supplies as soon as the wind abates. When they don’t – because there aren’t any and they couldn’t get through if there were – the Corporation’s journalists take it upon themselves to get cross, not on behalf of the disaster victims but on behalf of us viewers sitting comfortably here at home with our BBC-fostered view that the world should be what we want it to be, not as it is.

This narrative has a strong appeal for central media outlets. By appointing themselves as arbiters of whether disasters are being properly handled, they subtly imply that if we don’t hear the media complaining, then ‘the authorities’ (Daddy) must be on top of the situation. That way, reporters don’t have to trek back to the scene years later to focus on the real rebuilding story, which is usually of the courage and resilience of ordinary people and the unglamourous charities and NGOs helping them.

Better still, it absolves the media themselves from making concessions in situations like Fukushima, where neither technology nor the myth of progress have made any headway since the tsunami.