Jun 032020
 

It’s not about Trump, you know, or at least I hope you know. In 2015, US police officers killed at least 104 unarmed black people. Out of all the unarmed people killed by the police that year, 36% were black, although black people made up only 13% of the US population. Trump was not yet president in 2015.

No, it’s not about Trump. It’s about ingrained institutional injustice. Take a look at the trial in 1978 of Debbie Sims Africa and her companions from “Move”, a trial so farcical that even a child would have have done better.

Or the 1985 aerial bombing of a neighbourhood in Philadelphia, when 11 people were killed, five of them children.

It’s about the unofficial yet – alas, ingrained – idea that not all people are people. It’s also about the unofficial, deep-seated, subconscious conviction that other people have to follow the rules, not me. Boris Johnson’s pet aide Dominique Cummings did not have to comply with Covid-19 rules. The British population has been up in arms about his driving a few miles to his family’s country estate while the rest of them were enduring lockdown. You’d think that was a fairly innocuous breach of rules, but no, the British were stung at the injustice.

In 99% of the killings committed by police officers in the US from 2013 to 2019, nobody has been prosecuted.

Killings committed by police officers from 2013 to 2019 (source):

  • 2013: 1782
  • 2014: 1714
  • 2115: 1607
  • 2116: 1595
  • 2117: 1767
  • 2018: 1848
  • 2019: 1795

I repeat: 99% of those killings have not been prosecuted and there have been massive and often violent protests again and again when the powers-that-be decided not to charge the killers. Evidently, rule of law does not apply when police officers kill. And rule of law certainly doesn’t protect non-whites. This has been an issue for decades. No wonder the Chinese and Iranians are laughing.

Forget Trump; in the first place, he never pretended to care about civil rights or justice. He doesn’t even know the meaning of the concepts. Ask instead: What has the Democratic Party done to rectify the racial imbalance?

Now you might not like the Black Panther movement or Move. So? At least they were brave enough to stand up for basic human rights, which they maintained should also apply to non-whites. They had the gumption to raise a fist or two in defence of their communities and they were persecuted. On the other hand there are a lot of criminally irresponsible organisations, companies and world leaders out there who will never be subjected to anything near what ordinary non-white citizens in the US need deal with.

You probably do not approve of the devastation of entire neighbourhoods currently being carried out by irate protesters. But can you honestly blame them? What would you have done if you lived cooped up in an overcrowded, underprivileged Covid-infested neighbourhood constantly being ostracised by police officers? This article in the Los Angeles Times merely gives a faint outline of the lifelong stress to which the majority of non-white U.S. Americans are being subjected.

A more complete picture is provided by the Marshall Project. I quote Wikipedia as at 03.06.2020:

The Marshall Project is a nonprofit, online journalism organization focusing on issues related to criminal justice in the United States, founded by former hedge fund manager Neil Barsky and with former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller as its first editor-in-chief. Its website states that it aims to “create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.”

The Marshall Project provides interesting articles about police brutality in the US from various news outlets.

May 262020
 

Usually, when people get killed in this country, the killer is a puny character. In 2019, for instance, 75% of the killers were under the influence of some intoxicant and 56% of the victims were women. In general, killers in this country are absolute losers, sick of mind and pathetic, no matter how frightening they seem from the victim’s perspective. Moreover more than 95% of the cases end up being solved.

But we also have big-time criminals, people whose minds are no doubt warped, but not to the extent that they lose control. They don’t kill, at least not here; they merely “traffic” and use minions to do the dirty work of handling the victims. The minions get caught, of course, but not the big-timers.

On 31 October 2018, the wife of one this country’s richest men vanished from their shared home. The entire country held it’s breath: We are not accustomed to high-profile disappearances around here.

At first, the case appeared to be one of kidnapping. Apparently a note had been left in the home from which the victim disappeared. The letter demanded a hefty ransom to be paid in an obscure crypto currency. Apparently the husband did try to pay, but the currency was quite simply too obscure. The kidnappers were not heard from again until nearly a year later, when they apparently made contact. The drama was of course played out in detail in the media, mainly by the aggrieved husband’s high-profile lawyer.

A few weeks ago, the police held a press conference to inform the public that they had arrested the husband on charges of murder and with the intention of locking him away for four weeks, so that they could carry out an in-depth search of his home, second home and company. They explained that they had long since reached the conclusion that the kidnapping never occurred and that it had merely been a performance staged for their (the police’s) benefit.

Meanwhile, the rest of the audience, the general public – myself included – was gaping at the spectacle. The very idea of that very rich man sitting behind bars was absolutely extraordinary. Naturally, it did not last. After a couple of days, his very high-profile lawyer had got him out of jail and the case seems to have reached a dead end.

To make a long story short, the police are convinced of his guilt. They are certain the woman has been killed by him or at his orders. There is only one small problem: No body. Moreover, there is insufficient evidence to exclude all reasonable doubt.

Point being: If you are rich and powerful enough, you can get away with murder, any number of them, in fact.

May 222020
 

Maybe you don’t care whether or not your movements on the Internet are being watched because you’re “not doing anything wrong”. If so, I won’t pick a quarrel with you. After all, why should you draw your curtains at night? Haven’t they seen a naked man/woman before?

Or maybe you will agree that the idea of being watched while sitting on the toilet is disagreeable, but if that is what it takes to put a few drug dealers behind bars, it’s an idea you can live with, even though you realise that if there’s one thing drug barons can do better than just about anybody else except other big-time criminals, it’s to protect their privacy. After all, they can buy all the expertise they need.

So, no, I won’t argue with you. You will hear more than you can bear about privacy in months to come. Covid has unleashed an army of young talented developers who are now all clicking away at their keyboards to satisfy governments’ and industry’s vast demand for ways and means to monitor our actions and influence our attitudes. If that’s fine with you, I repeat, I won’t argue… except to remind you of one thing:

There are investigative journalists out there, sticking their necks out to dig up the dirt we need to know about so that we don’t go off and elect the likes of Trump and Bolsonaro again and again and again. There are tens of thousands of human rights activists and their lawyers and honest judges who risk being stuffed into jails without trials or killed for defending their co-citizens. These people’s privacy must be protected at all cost! How can we help? By defending our own privacy so that their defended privacy doesn’t stick out like a row of sore thumbs.

I’m so very far from being an expert in this field that I would urge you to leave this page at once to go and read somebody else’s advice. But I haven’t found any comprehensive self-help guidance to direct you to. The Privacy Rights Clearing House, for instance, provides very sound insight at the general level, but the bottom line there, as I understand it, is that we should all stay away from the Internet in any way, shape, or form.

True, you can find valuable practical snippets on sites like this one from Kaspersky, but bear in mind that here Kaspersky is also trying to sell us its own products.

So I will do my best to indicate how we can protect our privacy from various kinds of intrusion. Of course, if you run a business, you should probably invest in professional services not only to protect your data but also to minimise your vulnerability to malware.

Your device’s location gets shared

The good news is that your device’s GPS is not telling anybody where you are.

The bad news is that the apps that have access to your GPS might do just that. And commercial use is made of the information.

So you should disable location access for the apps on your phone, and you should disable location storage in your Google or Apple account. PCMag outlines how to do so.

You should consider whether you absolutely need to use Facebook, and if you really do, you ‘d better hone your privacy settings there. Kaspersky tells you how.

Websites you visit share more information about you

You prevent this if you use a VPN service.

Doing so not only hides your IP address; it encrypts the re-routing of your internet traffic. So whatever information the websites or ISPs have stored will be illegible to them.

There are many free VPN services, and even more websites that compare them. Take a look.

“Free” always comes at a cost:

  • You don’t want “speed throttling”.
  • You want a large data allowance.
  • You want to cover all the devices you use.
  • For normal privacy protection, you don’t need access to many countries.

So as not to excceed my data allowance, I try to remember to turn off VPN when video streaming (legally).

Another advantage of VPN is that it also protects you against hackers when you are away from home. But if you yourself are engaged in serious criminal activity, the web service can hand over your identity to law-enforcement.

Many repressive regimes consider political opposition “terrorism” and some unnamed countries penalise whistle blowing. If you are from or living in such a country you might opt for a VPN service in a country that is not likely to pander to, for instance, the Saudi or Israeli governments.

You do not need to use a VPN to block cookies and adverts. There are other ways of doing that. Some browsers do so and there are plugins or “extensions”, such as Ghostery.

Your browser

If you use VPN, your browser isn’t a big issue. But if you turn off VPN …

I would not use Chrome or Safari, and Opera has been sold to a Chinese group.

On Android devices I currently recommend Brave. For computers, consult e.g. Wired or Digital Trends. If you use Firefox, you should at least learn how to fine-tune the browser’s security and privacy settings.

Messaging

WhatsApp is owned by Facebook and its main source of income is based on users’ contact lists. I put to you that Facebook’s track record is less than respectable. Signal is widely recommended. and is pretty impressive in terms of privacy.

Contacts, calendarsand email are our weekest point!

If you, like me, let Google or Apple manage your contacts and calendar, not to mention your email, you really have a problem. We have a problem. Or rather, our contacts have a problem. A lot of other apps on our phones will have access to the contacts, not least Facebook. Yes, Google and Apple enccrypt our email, but not end-to-end.

Oh dear, oh dear.

There is no way I am going to take my contacts and calendar back to a paper notebook. The blessing of having all my devices synchronised cannot be exaggerated. But what if I regularly meet with political refugees from, say, Saudi Arabia or with Russian political activists opposed to Putin… Yes, what then? If the Saudi or Russian authorities are seriously tracking them, my writing in my calendar that I’ll be having lunch with them at so and so time/place and their phone numbers in my contact list may endanger them.

How do I know what Google hands over to state prosecutors who may or may not be hounding people from minority groups and other disadvantaged areas?

What I need is an email service (and local client) that provides end-to-end encryption and that also stores and synchronises a contact list and a calendar.

I googled “privacy alternative to gmail and contacts” (without the quotes). You’d be surprised by the number of hits. Three of the top five, including two from VPN service providers (and they should know) all coincided pretty well in their conclusions. (NordVPN, RestorePrivacy and PureVPN).

As far as I can judge, only one of the email clients they recommend also provides a contact list and calendar: Tutanota. Now, I don’t much like the name, but I do like the look of it. The hitch is, of course, that all email sent from this email service gets encrypted. So you won’t want to use it to ask your dentist for an appointment. But you could use it to communicate with Saudi refugees and with good friends, not to mention if one of them is a married colleague with whom you are having an affair. You would, in other words, leave your dentist’s number on your visible contact list and move your shrink to your private list, using only Signal to communicate with him/her.

So this is as far as I get without using PGP, which many email clients do allow, but which is a little too cumbersome for most of us – and it still leaves us with an unprotected contact list and calender.

The last word has not yet been written, never will be. But for the moment, if you really make an effort, you can still communicate pretty safely online.

May 072020
 

If you read Thomas Piketty’s ground-breaking Capitalism and Ideology, you will see that a great deal remains to be done in the world, and I’m very much afraid that it will have to be done by you and me and our children and grandchildren. It will certainly not be done by any president or prime minister here, there or anywhere else. As Greta Thunberg has pointed out, our grandchildren will not thank us for the state of affairs we leave to them unless we do our D–dest to try to set things right.

The problem with Covid, to my mind, is not so much that it is a killer – locust swarms that destroy everything in their paths are also killers (by proxy), and you don’t hear much about them – it’s who it kills and why. Like other contagious diseases it primarily kills people in congested areas, particularly where sanitary conditions are unsatisfactory, people with scant access to health care and education, and people with short-sighted employers and governments. It will probably not kill people like me, who can work from home at a cottage in the wilds. I only come face to face with another human, separated from me by a glass screen, twice a week at checkout.

So the Covid issue is not really about Covid, it’s about all the underlying stuff, the stuff systematically kept in the shadows. The media makes sure that we mull over the prospects of suffering a terrible Covid death, that we sit still and thank the powers-that-be for whatever handout we get to replace the jobs many of us have lost or will loose. Not to rock the boat, that is the idea. No wonder a recent Guardian article sees fit to remind us that we are actually not all in the same boat.

You will see some of the issues lurking in the shadows behind Covid if you scroll down the entries of the Oxford-based “Our World in Data” . Pass quickly over the Covid stuff, and take a look at issues such as “Nutrition” (“22% of children younger than 5 are stunted”) or Maternal mortality.

Now “Our World in Data” is not a “leftist” site. It probably takes pains not to be, as failing to do so would mean less funding for the research underlying its data. Nevertheless, I was amazed to find that there were no figures about maternal mortality in the United States. “Now why would that be?” I wondered.

Unsurprisingly, this chart shows that the proportion of women who die in pregnancy, giving birth or within 42 days after giving birth has fallen drastically from 1991 to 2015. If you press the button “Add country”, you will see that Tunisia, for example, is doing nicely, but there is no data for the US. For Canada, yes, and for North America, yes. So the figures for the US are hiding behind Canadas? Interesting.

I turn to Wikipedia (as at 07.05.2020)

The US has shown to have the highest rate of pregnancy related deaths o/c maternal mortality amongst all the industrialized countries. The CDC first implemented the Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System in 1986 and since then maternal mortality rates have increased from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 17.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. [Highlighting by Pelshval]

And here is a Vox article on the issue:

If you compare the CDC figure to other countries in the World Health Organization’s latest maternal mortality ranking, the US would rank 55th, just behind Russia.

What does Joe Biden propose to do about that? Blame Covid?

I apologise for harping so much on the United States, but it really does get on my nerves that a country that is NOT the great meritocratic, egalitarian and Democratic society it claims to be insists on calling the shots about just about everything, everywhere, all the time. It is high time we all, including in the US, start doing things differently. This is not “the best of all possible worlds” to quote Voltaire’s Pangloss (or Leibnitz, if you like, but I’ve never read Leibniz). For many people in the US, it is not even the best yet. And it will get worse for all of us, before it gets better.

Piketty proposes a whole array of alternatives. He does not tell us what to do. He just tells us that other ways are possible. Actually, the only course that is not open to us is the one we are on now. Before long, this road will simply close down.

Piketty also tells us why we are so blind to the existence of other options, which goes a long way, in my mind, to explain why many people, including myself, have said, “It’s no use… We can’t repair this mess… Hopeless… You can’t beat the financial system, market forces… ” But the Berlin wall did come down, didn’t it? We thought it never ever would, but it did.

Apr 292020
 

This is to remind you of the Amnesty International petition in defence of freedom of expression. I quote AI:

Julian Assange’s publication of disclosed documents as part of his work with Wikileaks should not be punishable as this activity mirrors conduct that investigative journalists undertake regularly in their professional capacity. Prosecuting Julian Assange on these charges could have a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression, leading journalists to self-censor from fear of prosecution.

People from all countries are urged to sign here.

Apr 122020
 

Once again I turn to the “historian and philosopher of economic thought” (quoting Wikipedia) Philip Mirowski and his eponymous book discussing How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown.

The book seems tailor-made for Covid-19, although it applied to the financial crisis in 2008. Back then, when many of us were worried, or should I say “frantic”, there were powerful people – people we really don’t want to know personally – who abused, and twisted and skewed things, who confounded and befuddled and “discombobulated” (a word Mirowski uses a lot) us for reasons of their own.

You will no doubt have noticed that since the end of this century’s first decade, which culminated in a financial crisis, the top 10% have become even richer and the bottom 50% very much poorer than they were.

In his book, Philip Mirowski demonstrates that there was and is an actively pursued agenda underlying Neoliberalism, and that there have been and are active agents pushing it. It didn’t have to happen. Reagan and Thatcher, taking their cues from Milton Freedman, didn’t have to happen either. There are other approaches to running a country than those propounded by the so-called Chicago School. Mirowski’s more recent article Hell is Truth Seen Too Late is not an easy read, but it gives a general idea of the agenda and its agents.

We have been hoodwinked into treating economic “laws” as holy cows. For example, the wording in the following quote will tend to stymie any climate activist who has doubts about the sustainability of “economic growth” (Source).

Natural economic law refers to the natural rule (mother rule) that three important consumptions drive the cyclic development of economy. It means: consumption – market – demands (increasing consumption needs of desire – recognition – knowledge and inspiration – recognition) – scientific research – production – consumption of higher level. It is a natural economic law of spiral movement.

Mirowski is not the only one to point out that people we don’t want to know personally are happy to exploit a crisis to advance their own ends. Naomi Klein has also written several books about the matter, including The Shock Doctrine. See what she has to say about the potential consequences of Covid-19. Mind you, she is not saying we are powerless. On the contrary, she is saying that we need to be alert. Grieving about the future is useless, particularly now that we actually have a chance of tipping the scales.

Yuval Harari, the author of Sapiens has been very visible in the media lately. I imagine him as a rather reserved sort of character, so his urgent appeals to the general public these past two months strike me as wake-up calls. (Google Harari + Covid). Speaking of Yuval Harari and the sustainability of economic growth, do please read Chapter 16 in Sapiens. In the light of Covid-19, read it again if you’ve forgotten it.

The Irish Times has recently interviewed Thomas Piketti, who echoes the trio. “Times of crisis are times when the existing ideologies are challenged and when national and international trajectories are likely to change.” The Irish Times continue: “Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic he says it would have been impossible to put air travel on hold as a measure to tackle climate change. But with this new reality, which we are at least temporarily confronted with, that perspective is now changing.”

Obviously, from now on, things will be different. To all appearances, there will merely be winners and losers. The telecom industry, obviously, will be winners, online shops and supermarkets that provide home deliveries likewise, and many companies will rapidly be able to redesign themselves. With predicted soaring unemployment, however, very many of us are already defining ourselves as losers.

But not so fast: Yes, businesses will all have to redesign themselves, unless they already have. Whole countries will have to do so too, though. Whole countries, mine and yours. It’s not just a question of the distribution of wealth and income. It’s also a matter of the distribution of power (not least in view of galloping developments within surveillance technology). And finally it’s a matter of the fate of the planet.

If you are the only one in town who is going to lose your job and your health insurance, you will feel very very bad indeed. Let me put it another way: the more of you there are, the more likely it is that your government will have to introduce some very major changes for your benefit.

If you are a telecom employee, you don’t want to wake up in 5 years feeling the way Edward Snowden felt when he realised that with his expertise he had contributed to a Big Brother is Watching You scenario.

So what will it be? Who will have the final say about the world we leave to our children? Trump, Putin, Xi and their likes, religious fundamentalists (Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish) or the rest of us?

Mar 282020
 

Pelshvalen er tilbake på våre breddegrader. Jeg hører den synger. Luften er jo blitt litt renere nå som følge av Corona-tiltak; kanskje også havet? Eller forresten, er det virkelig sang jeg hører?

En venn i det hardt Corona-rammede Spania og jeg kommuniserer en del for tiden, her vi sitter i hver vår “sosiale avstand”, han i praksis i husarrest og jeg med hytte- og besøksforbud.

Dagens tema har vært chagas. (Det var spanjolen som begynte, fordi han har en boliviansk venn som pga. chagas nylig er blitt livsvarig arbeidsufør i en alder av 38.) Chagas tar hovedsakelig de fattige – mange fattige – i Latinamerika, og farmasøytiske selskap bryr seg derfor ikke om denne sykdommen.

Det er i det hele tatt mange svært alvorlige sykdommer i fattige land som den farmasøytiske industrien og økonomiske eliter ikke bryr seg nevneverdig om.

Nå kommer det riktignok endelig en malaria-vaksine, men hvem av de fattige får råd til å ta den? Her i vesten har vi i årtier hatt vaksine mot røde hunder, som er en helt uskyldig sak for alle unntatt fostre. Vaksinering mot Zika-virus (forbundet med mikrokefali hos fostre i mødre smittet under svangerskapet) er derimot enda ikke klar. Det er nettopp utviklet en vaksine mot Dengue-virus som bare må gis til folk som allerede har motstoffer mot Dengue, og som i for eks. i Thailand koster  USD 87 x 3 (+ testing av serum antistofftiter)

Osv. osv.

En Covid-19-vaksine er derimot allerede klar til testing etter bare et par måneder, og vil bli klar til bruk om et år.

I NRK har de imellomtiden nesten sluttet å snakke om hva som skal skje med de innelåste flyktningene i Hellas (31.400), i Syria og naboland og i andre nødstedte områder. Jan Egelands askegrå, fortvilte ansikt dukker øyeblikkvis opp på skjermen, men fader straks ut i det leppene hans former et svimlende høyt tall. Publikum – vi – orker ikke tenke på, orker ikke se på, orker ikke vite, orker ikke høre det. Orker ikke, ORKER IKKE.

Jeg tror at vi i vesten trues av en annen, men like stor, krise som Covid-19, men jeg vet ikke hvordan den vil arte seg. Derfor formulerer jeg beskrivelsen av den som spørsmål:

Hvor lenge og til hvilken pris vil hver og en av oss klare å opprettholde sameksistensen mellom, på den ene siden, våre stort sett “humanitære prinsipper” og, på den andre, undertrykt kunnskap om at millioner etterlates uten våpen mot ulike mikrobiologiske (f.eks. viruser) og makrobiologiske og -geologiske (f.eks. ørkenspredning) fiender?

Hvor lenge kan vår tro på oss selv som rettferdig og demokratisk samfunn overleve det at vi forlater de andre, der de sitter fast i sine flyktningeleire, favelaer eller omgitt av utbrente marker. Med tårer i øynene snur vi oss og vinker, men de ser ikke våre tårer fordi de er allerede i ferd med å falle om.

Denne sameksistensen er så disharmonisk at den skriker. Noe vil måtte gi seg. Før eller senere.

Er det kanskje uling jeg hører?

Mar 252020
 

This is definitely not the time to hold forth about my pet issues.

What’s more, I have no suggestions either to politicians or to members of the public. For once, I don’t feel I know best. The very fact that something like this could happen without the possibility of it’s doing so having occurred to me, feels very sobering.

I didn’t understand the maths of the situation. A friend of mine saw, from day 1, on the basis of the figures from Wuhan, how this “pandemic” would unfold. (The friend in question is one of those people who learnt to do calculus before he learnt to speak.)

What I have learnt from members of the public – what we are learning from each other – is to support one another, emotionally and practically.

But still, no matter how sheepish I feel, I am not ready to bury my battle axe. One pet issue demands the floor!

Covid-19 would not have been such a killer, if we had had:

  • Satisfactory health care for all regardless of income
  • Sanitary living conditions for all regardless of income
  • Quality compulsory education and higher education /professional training, regardless of income

The Devil is in our ignorance.

Mar 042020
 

It’s Super Tuesday. Today I met a friend from the United States. We had lunch together. She was worried. I was worrid too. We both worry, of course, that Donald Trump might be given a new chance to continue his mission of global wreckage. But we worry in different ways.

President Trump blatantly disregards the very bulwark of democracy: the separation of powers (i.e. the legislative, judicial and executive powers). Democracy as we know it, surely isn’t perfect, but it is a whole lot better than any alternative we know of. Donald Trump’s interference in the trial of the long-time criminal Roger Stone departs so starkly from the principles of Democracy, that I think a lot of US citizens were seriously startled. Why did the President demonstrate so clearly his total indifference to the rule of law? Surely, he must have known that many Republicans, even, would be horrified. I have absolutely no doubt as to the answer: Roger Stone has got something on Trump, something that would put Trump behind bars for life. Unless Trump protects him, Roger Stone will talk. After all, Roger Stone is a self-declared “dirty tricster”, i.e. a crook. If that is the case, US politics may be said to be “Mafioso”. I emphasise, for the record, that I have no evidence.

On the other side, the Democratic Party Establishment understandably fears Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders’ programme is devoted to improving the standard of living; not for the Democratic Party establishment or their arty friends. No, his agenda is the standard of living of the people that form 70% or more of the US population: those who are under-paid, badly paid or unpaid, plus women who cannot afford maternity leave, plus men who cannot afford time from work to get to know their babies; plus kids who go to lousy schools; plus bright kids who cannot afford to go to university; plus good black kids who get arrested just for being black.What happened to the US social mobility mantra “Anybody can become president”? In the US, social mobility is a lost cause; the “American Dream” is a lost cause.

The Democratic Party Establishment want Joe Biden. Trump wants Joe Biden, too. He said so, didn’t he, at the very outset of his career as president. Because Joe Biden cannot compete with Donald Trump! Really, the idea! Joe Biden may well be a very nice man. He may even be a good and honest man. But he will not rally the young. He does not have much of a grasp on the future. He will not inspire hope. He will just know about business as usual, but business as usual – surely you must know that – will not solve the problems that await us.

The Democratic Party Establishment constitutes a certain percentage of the electorate, but frankly, is its share anything near a majority? Will the single mothers, black fathers, overworked and underpaid teachers and nurses, students and street sweepers break their necks to go and vote for Joe Biden? Would I, if I were a US citizen? Trump is bad, true, but so were many presidents before him. I reckon the US is a lost case for Democracy. Unless Sanders… Yes, even I find myself “praying”, as it were, for the United States of America. I fear, however, that tomorrow morning, when I hear the results, I shall continue advocating European disassociation from the US and its military enterprise NATO.

Feb 052020
 

There aren’t many encouraging stories these days. Maybe I know of one, though. (Mind you, I make no promises.) My story starts grimly enough, with a headline that began to pop up here and there some time last spring: “Millions of songbirds vacuumed to death every year during Mediterranean olive harvest”. If you google it, you will see for yourself.

Now in the UK there are a lot of bird lovers, and they started singing angrily. A veritable storm of protests rose up from the throats of British bird-loving consumers. Tesco, Sainsbury and Waitrose felt pressured and have apparently promised to take a closer look at what olive products they stock.

That’s nice, isn’t it? An example of ethical market forces, right?

We could leave it there, of course, and it is certainly very moving that the British were up in arms about something that isn’t royalty, and in a Brexit year, no less. So hats off for the British! My neurotically unsentimental compatriots would probably not have lifted a finger; they can’t tell the difference between a bird and a drone. (In fact, this wasn’t even news in my country, where we guzzle olive oil by the litre.)

But there is a shadow story here, and it is not as nice. For one thing, few supermarket chains will refuse to sell ecologically harmful products, as that would be suicide for the chains in question. The proportion of poor people in Britain, as elsewhere, is growing. Given the choice of hand-picked expensive olives and vacuumed cheap olives, which will they choose? If all poor people knew that every bottle of the cheap oil they use is likely to have cost the life of perhaps five birds, many of them might consider giving up olive oil altogether. But they don’t know, and even if they do, there are so many other horrible things going on that – well, what can you do? There are innumerable children being killed in wars and hot spots, wombats being killed in Australia – even after the fires – coral reefs dying… Locust swarms are consuming parts of Africa, miners are being shot, populations are fleeing from sinking islands, tens of thousands of refugees are being held in consentration camps in Greece and Libya, etc. etc. etc.

We shall of course soon see the emergence of eco-friendly supermarkets, shops where all products are tested. They will be exorbitantly expensive, though. So “the market” will not solve the climate crisis or any other serious ecological challenge. It will just be an opportunity for the rich to pay indulgence, as it were.

Still, my verdict is that this was a beautiful story because it tells us that sometimes, people – even masses of people – will be happy to serve an honestly good and peaceful cause. A tiny Robin with its scarlet breast can move the sternest of us to tears. I know, because I held one in my hand a year ago, when it had died after crashing into my window. Small creatures whose lovely songs ring through the woods in late afternoons are such a stunning contrast to war games, Netflix series and the increasingly ghastly news we cannot help but hear even though we try not to.

As an afterthought to the above, I would like to point out that nation states can actually impose laws, can actually prohibit certain things, and can, also, encourage other things. I would like to direct your attention to the Nordic Swan Label. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nordic_swan

I say no more for now.