Aug 112021

If Trump said that, it must be wrong, right? Wrong. (Alas, when will we learn that even our enemies may occasionally have a point?)

Even the New York Times, even the Washington Post and even the Guardian and Le Monde need sponsors, sponsors with large purses, very large purses, people like Jeff Bezos. I bet Jeff Bezos is a Washington Post sponsor…

Hold on! The Washington Post is actually OWNED by Jeff Bezos, you know the guy behind Amazon (a company where employees are afraid they’ll get sacked if they have to go to the loo). Put it this way: Jeff Bezos would not be someone I would like to work for. I would not vote for him in any political context. I would not want my children to have anything to do with him or his offspring or his companies. You see, my theory is: Tell me what company you own and/or run, and I will tell you who you are.

So do I trust the Washington Post?

Jeff Bezos took a little ride into space the other day. Good for him. It must have been fun. I don’t like the way he makes his money (by treating employees like machines), but I don’t care how he spends his leisure time. What I do resent, however, is that according to Aljazeera’s Listening Post, the CBS Morning News Show devoted no less than 212 minutes to Jeff Bezos after his space jaunt, “almost as much” as the show had devoted to climate change over the entire past year. (So I certainly don’t trust CBS.)

Now, do I trust Aljazeera? Of course not. Aljazeera, too, is owned by somebody, the King of Qatar, I gather. Working conditions are no better in Qatar than at Amazon (possibly no worse either). My point being: Aljazeera and the Washington Post are both news outlets that pride themselves on delivering top-of-the-shelf, intrepid journalism. They are very important sources.

Sources of their calibre hate peddling outright falsehoods. Deceit, however, takes many forms, as we know, one of them being silence. What is not said is as rhetorically forceful as what is said. In my previous post I wrote of the Israeli Pegasus spy-ware. The Listening Post on Aljazeera, a program I warmly recommend because, as they say, “we don’t cover the news, we cover how the news is covered”, said not a word about how the spy-ware is used in so-called Democratic countries. Not a word.

But they did discuss the role played by the German Springer tabloid “Bild” in German politics. Very interesting, that. Very reminiscent, indeed, of the role played by the Washington Post and Fox News in US politics.

Meanwhile, I find myself wondering whether Jeff Bezos intends to try to run for president. (As you see, my distrust of the man is visceral.) There is something vaguely megalomaniacal about the man’s “visions” for us earthlings in space. Maybe I am reading the wrong text? Maybe the man is merely grieving, as I grieve, about the fate of humans all over the globe, about animals, and plants – species, no less, many of which have been eradicated in the course of just a decade. Is he mad enough to imagine that he will save humanity? Or is he merely planning his own and his friends and family’s escape to another planet?

Let’s forget about whatchamacallit Bezos! We are, after all, marching now, inexorably, towards something that hardly bears thinking about. Let us NOT forget, though, that beauty still exists and will always exist in one form or another no matter what happens to our planet and the species that inhabit it. Listen to Ravel’s Bolero, for instance, to the music’s sore-footed, determined march towards a somewhere “over the rainbow”, which inevitably, again and again, turns out to be way past the horizon for the refugees, say, or the elephants and zebras and squirrels – just a trickle of them at first , then more and more, and more…

Poor consolation, perhaps, but: There will always be music, always be glorious sunsets, always be stories told at dusk. And there will always be acts of generosity and solidarity and simple kindnesses that warm a frightened heart.

For years, even the most excellent sources of top-notch journalism have been evasive about climate change. When will they do their job? Or to put it differently: When will their sponsors allow them to do their job? Will they ever? Or will theys just rely on Jeff Bezos getting them away from a ruined planet to continue their business of getting rich on Mars?

What the rest of us need to know is how to respond to climate change. We don’t just need warnings. We need – let’s face it – a revolution, an inter-disciplinary, knowledged-based revolution.

I envisage the empowering of marine biologists, meteorologists, entomologists, agronomists, epidemiologists, anthropologists and of social scientists of every order, economists, psychologists, etc., etc. in every country in the world and from every economic echelon. Not just them, their students too. At the local level I envisage citizens being invited to discuss, in every municipality: HOW DO WE DEAL WITH THIS?

This would all of course entail a certain amount of chaos, so some rules of engagement would have to be established, and I certainly don’t know what rules, but I want to be asked. I want all of us to be asked! These are times of urgency and urgent measure are needed.

I leave you here. For now. THINK. THINK HARD.

Jan 162020

While Australia is burning, I listen to a radio programme titled “What will the next decade bring?” Two enthusiastic men, both of them social scientists with PHDs about “future prospects”, believe it or not, gleefully exclaim that in the course of the coming decade “we” will be colonising planets.

That word, “we”, is just about the most irritating word I know, as it is all too often used as a euphemism for “a few lucky suckers”. Not that I envy anybody the chance to live on a lifeless pink planet, but by the time “we” get there, spaceships to Mars will resemble overflowing buses in Bombay: people dangling by their fingertips from cracks and snags in the outer shell of the overburdened vehicles.

That word – “we” – can be pronounced in a self-congratulatory tone of voice: How fortunate “we” are, how great, how wonderful, how very much better than everybody else. Let us praise the Lord.

I propose to use the word with a rather different intonation.

The Australian conflagration has momentarily eclipsed even the destruction of the Amazon. The entire world weeps at the fate of the victims, including, not least, that remarkable continent’s marsupials and fauna in general. Meanwhile the Fascist Brazilian president Bolsonaro is temporarily off the hook, as Australia seems the greater tragedy.

It so happened that I have been reading Sapiens by Yuval Harari while all this has been going on. For the few of you who have not already read the book, I take the liberty of describing it as a damning indictment of our species. True, “we” are wonderful story tellers and ingenious charlatans, but also universally destructive. I don’t know whether the author of the book would accept my summary of it; after all, he needs to earn a living. Nevertheless, this reader finds his indictment so damning that I am not even sure I shall manage to finish reading it; after all, there are people I need to love and be loved by.

Ever since the early eighties, when I read the NASA scientist Carl Sagan’s wonderful book Cosmos (published in 1980), and watched the 13-part television series, I have known about the threat to our planet posed by greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, more and more scientists have confirmed early predictions, and projections are growing exponentially bleaker by the month.

Yes, yes, the sun… and yes, this, that and the other. But the effect of a greenhouse should be as understandable even to a child as it was to me in 1980; that is, if the child wants to understand it.

A lot of people are burrowing their heads into the sand. Some do so because of fear, others because of greed. Regardless of the reason, “we” – people living today – will be called to account by future generations regardless of our reasons for failing to support measures to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. “We” will – quite simply – never be forgiven. “We” should have known, just as the Europeans should have known back in the early forties. “We” refused to see what was happening to the planet, just as the Europeans – refused to see what was happening to the Jews.

But go on, if you wish, pretending. Go on listening to Fox news, telling yourself that everything will be all right, that we can just go on doing exactly what we have been doing, playing our cold war games, driving our supersonic vehicles into a make-believe future. Real life will catch up with us, one by one, as surely as death. Unlike ordinary death, though, real life will catch up with more than just us.

But as Carl Sagan pointed out 40 years ago: “We” are all just a grain of sand in the cosmic picture. I put it to you: Does the future of our planet, its species, our species matter?

Aug 052019

I have written elsewhere on this site that we all should do our utmost to form a protective ring around the “Reporters sans frontiers” (RSF) and other journalists who risk their necks to tell us what is going on.

At the same time, I abhor those who kill, maim or otherwise persecute people on the grounds of religion or ethnicity, or to steal land. Those people are indeed terrorists, as the two US mass killers last weekend, and should be captured, indicted on charges of terrorrism and sentenced.

Unfortunately, many nations and states treat non-violent political opposition as terrorism. Though my country does not do that, its servility to USA is awkward (an example of which is here, again from the Intercept, bless them). The US enjoys a warm relationship with a number of repressive regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, and has played a sinister role in Central and Latin America for decades. The country’s president takes action against people of Latin American or Middle Eastern extraction, although mass shootings in USA are mostly committed by right-wing extremists.

So what to do? On the one hand, we want to support law enforcement efforts to monitor electronic devices used by the real terrorists and other criminals who ruin people’s lives. On the other hand, we want to protect those who expose, for instance, serious profit-motivated deception, (cf. the health service in USA). We also want to protect those who are brave enough to voice protests against repressive authorities (cf. demonstrators in Moscow these days).

How can we do both? The answer, as I see it is: We can’t.

Compare another dichotomy: How can western countries maintain current living standards while at the same time taking the steps that are required to avert or deal with climate collapse.

The answer as I see it is: We can’t.

In this latter case, to avoid future implosion of whole states, there will have to be wealth redistribution, as there was in WWI and WWII. Draconian measures will be required. Those with greater wealth (i.e. with more to spare) will have to provide more than those with less, like it or not.

Those with more to spare don’t know that yet, and there will be much time wasted, many political battles, and probably more fascism before the tide turns.

Meanwhile, I put to you that the greatest of the dangers that faces our children and grandchildren is NOT terrorism and NOT crime, but climate collapse; oh, and yes, fascism. Fascism throttles knowledge and prohibits political activism. Fascism is state terrorism compounded by terrorism from armed militias trying to overthrow fascist governments. People fall silent and mind their own businesses, hoping that they and their children will survive the next week. We don’t need that.

What we need is the opposite: We need a boisterous majority that reads up on climate change, holds caucuses to discuss what to do and stridently demands that appropriate preventive measures be taken by our governments NOW. And by the way, we also need a vociferous minority that will have no part in such activism. In short, what we need is knowledge and solidarity, not repression and not electoral circuses.

May 082019

Janet doesn’t want to have children because she cannot bear the thought of the future she imagines would await them. Her mother angrily tells her not to be “so silly!” though she cannot explain what’s so silly about her daughter’s well-founded fears.

The fifteen-year-old in the house next door is playing truant today, to go and join an enormous congregation of school children demonstrating to “save the climate”. His parents wring their hands, but what can they do other than threaten to cancel his next allowance. They don’t do that, though, because in their hearts, they are a little proud of him.

Many of us have started apologising on reflex, in a general sort of way and to nobody in particular, every time we book a plane ticket or eat meat. Are we genuinely contrite or are we just paying lip service (in a general sort of way and to nobody in particular)? I do think many of us eat a little less meat, but I very much doubt we fly less, on the whole. I certainly don’t. For 22 years, I could not afford to fly at all. Now that I finally can, I do. And yes, I wish I could go by train, but travelling by train for days across Europe with a dog is an almost superhuman, not to mention super-canine, affair.

Some progress is being made: Many uses of plastic will soon be banned, and it is true that annual CO2 emission from my country has not risen since 1990. As a matter of fact, it is almost exactly what it was then, 8.4 tonnes.

Meanwhile, half my country is up in arms because of the recent dramatic rise in the cost of driving a car (road tolls, tax on petrol, etc.). And yes, it IS UNFAIR that people who cannot afford to live in the metropolis have to spend their savings to get to work every day. In the end, they – and all of us – will be the ones to pay the cost of climate change and the socio-economic effects of it. Compared to that price, road tolls and costly fuel will be Sunday School.

Critics say we must stop raising spectres from the graves, stop being so apocalyptic. We have no right, they insist, to ruin people’s peace of mind. Children must be allowed to have faith in the future, they say; do not fill them with fear, they say.

Alas, many children, those whose parents are farmers, do not need to be told. Their parents wrung their hands last summer, helplessly monitoring scorched fields and slaughtering livestock for lack of water and fodder. The year before last, fields were inundated; houses and cattle were carried away by flash floods. Already this year, my country’s fruit harvest is lost due to climate anomalies. Am I being apocalyptic? Am I ruining anybody’s sleep but my own by observing and narrating what I actually see with my own eyes?

Meanwhile: Business as usual. We are going full blast. There are opportunities to be made the most of. Let the morrow take care of itself.

In some other countries, where social cohesion is scant due to poverty and oppression, they solve citizens’ malaise differently : fascistoid parties and even governments are cropping up everywhere, promising to bring back, by hook or by crook, the “good-old-days”, when youngsters and wives and employees did as they were told and kissed the hands that whipped them. In such countries, you will probably be too busy trying to avoid getting whipped (or put in jail) to worry about the climate.

Not so here, not yet. Here, we (excepting the very few who are taught in institutions run by religious fanatics – more often than not, Evangelical or Saudi-funded Whahabi) have a deep respect for science. After all, laboratories are on the verge of being able to create atoms and brain cells. But science has not been harnessed to save us from the effects of exponential climate change. (Please note the word “exponential”. This word is not a mere adjective; it is tantamount to a curse.) Science can only tell us that exponential climate change will be inevitable and catastrophic unless we turn the ship around in time, as it were.

Turning the ship around in time would mean obstructing “business as usual” so seriously that the powers-that-be refuse to even contemplate the idea. Who would allow them to stay in power if they did?

So, in my Democratic country, while we still mostly resist the lure of fascist rhetoric, we – voters – are definitely not resisting the lure of neoconservative rhetoric:

  • The market will adapt to the “green” shift.
  • Technology will solve the problem.
  • The problem is that Africans have too many babies.
  • We cannot entirely rule out that this is not caused only by mankind.
  • The effects will not be all that serious.

I add, for the record, what many members of the public say:

  • You can’t fight it, it’ll all go to hell anyway. Let’s just enjoy while we can.
  • That bloody “green” political correctness…!

Let me introduce a name here: Naomi Klein, a very smart lady who has been writing words of warning for years and whose critique is very sharp indeed, and very prophetic. In one of her recent articles (I cannot understand how she finds the patience to continue explaining, so nicely, what we refuse to understand) which I urge you to take a look at, you will see, at least indirectly, that Naomi Klein has little faith in the market as a problem solver.

NOT because you and I don’t care, but because you and I have to pay the rent, and we have to pay for petrol, child care, etc. Every year we have to pay. WE had no say in the decisions made back in 1988. WE had no idea then. And even now, in 2019, we hope that it will all turn out all right. At any rate, most of us can’t really afford more expensive petrol.

For my part, I am very confused, too. I don’t at all doubt the effects of climate change. I understand implicitly the effects of greenhouse gasses. I have understood that ever since I read Carl Sagan’s book Cosmos in 1980.

But I don’t see how our so-called “democratic” states can convince voters to elect “green” politicians who will make their lives very much worse than they are. I don’t see how this can be done unless the state is totalitarian and I definitely don’t want a totalitarian state.

Dear Naomi Klein, please figure it out.

Jan 172019

Sometimes I walk my dog with a very kind and very large man with a very kind and very large dog. His is not a frivolous mind, far from it; he does a great deal more thinking than most people I know. And of course, as can be expected of a man who thinks a lot, he has some opinions, a couple of which I disagree with. However, I’ve stopped shouting at him (he has never shouted at me) because he is not motivated by greed, and he is certainly not callous.

One of the issues we disagree about is “climate change”. I was stunned when he quietly said, “actually, I’m not really sure it is all that anthropogenic”. I thought that in this country, at least, there was wide consensus about the devastating impact of greenhouse gases on the planet. After all, the level of education here is generally high, and there are scientists in almost every family.

I still think my friend is an exception in a way, yet, in a way not. Although most of us here agree about the effect on the planet of greenhouse gases, we are doing hardly anything about it. We talk a lot, to be sure, but according to official figures in 2018, emissions of greenhouse gases here have not (!) decreased since 1990, and there is no sign of their doing so in the immediate or less immediate future. Why? Well, for one thing, who is going to pay for the reduction? The tax payer? The rich? You and I by forfeiting air travel and by shivering through the winter months? And what about the other countries? Why should my country pay the price if your country lives as though there were no tomorrow?

And yet, we all see it coming, the dreaded tomorrow, when even my part of the planet, not to mention yours, will no longer be a nice place. Actually, it hardly bears thinking about, and in my country, more and more women are saying to themselves: I cannot bear the thought of bringing children into tomorrow’s world.

Meanwhile, with fewer and fewer babies inhabiting my country, we live just like you do, as though there were no tomorrow, because the thought of tomorrow does not bear thinking about. But since my friend is quite incapable of not thinking, he has taken the alternative approach: he thinks that whatever is happening to the planet is through no fault of ours, so there is really nothing to be done, and the planet will survive as it always has.

When you get down to it, both he and I – in spite of our different viewpoints – are like a terminal patient I once knew: With shining eyes, he would speak about buying a little sailboat and sailing to an island he knew of. He would pitch a tent there, light a campfire and fry the fish he had caught himself. He radiated when he evoked skin-diving in the clear waters around the island, or listening to birds singing as the sun went down, or watching the sunrise from his sleeping bag. Just thinking about him, I long for summer and I’m already planning …

Oct 132018

Climate change is picking up speed and impact like an avalanche, wiping out one poor community after another. It’s ineluctable consequences can no longer be downplayed as something we can take in our stride, because we can’t. Or rather, rich nations still can, but by 2050, those of us who are still alive may wish we weren’t.

I would like to quote a definition of exponential in my Cambridge Learner’s dictionary:

describes a rate of increase which becomes quicker and quicker as the thing that increases becomes larger

That’s climate change in a nutshell. It multiplies itself as it progresses. At this late stage – scientists have been warning about this for decades – the measures that could prevent further climate-induced exponential developments on every continent would be extremely painful. And as usual of course, the poor would suffer the most, something that would lead to social upheaval here, there and everywhere.

Yes, we can still deal with it, to some extent. But as the fertile farmlands of Morocco, Tunis and Algeria grow arid from drought, and the rising sea level submerges them, what country will be prepared to welcome the refugees? Even now, what country is prepared to welcome refugees from the Sahel?

Yet, what democratically elected government will commit hara-kiri by imposing the necessary measures on its voters? And as for the market, companies must ensure their owners and investors get a cut. The market will only turn around when there’s no longer much left to lose.

So I was wrong. Faced with a desperate situation, I fear we must rely on what once seemed the worst of all available energy sources. Yes, the production of atomic energy is very expensive, far more expensive than solar or eolic energy. That is nevertheless the least of our problems. Yes, in an atomic energy plant the consequences of a production flaw, human error, war or earthquakes can be cataclysmic. Yes, nothing, be it man-made or not, is fool-proof. No mountain, no bedrock, no tectonic plate, even, least of all man and/or woman is infallible.

Moreover, the inevitable radioactive waste generated by atomic energy production will be lethal to all living organisms for tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years, and no safe permanent storage solution has been found.

But can disasters linked to atomic energy production begin to compare with the disaster of, for instance, the Syrian war? That war started with a three-year drought that drove hundreds of thousands of people from the countryside to the cities, triggered sharp food price hikes, and led to street protests and subsequent crackdowns, a process which spiralled into civil war. The climate-related aspect of the Syrian drama was something I understood many years ago, but most observers were only interested in its political and humanitarian sequels. For the record I am inserting a link to an old article in which the expression “climate change” is conspicuously absent: …lack of water… Syria.

Atomic energy production can satisfy even the greediest of energy demands, something that is not the case, yet, with safe sources of energy.

Yes, with atomic energy there will be more Chernobyls. Yes, people will die due to atomic energy accidents and radioactive waste leakage coupled with investor greed. But their deaths will be far fewer than the victims of a two-and-a-half-degree-increase of the planet’s temperature, which we are due to see in the course of our own lifetime.

Climate change”. The expression sounds so innocuous. Those of us who are well-fed, well-read and well-travelled, i.e. middle-class people in the East and West – in short voters and consumers – have not yet felt the slash of a whip over our backs. Innumerable Africans, however, have had to abandon their homes on land rendered useless due to “climate change”. My own country’s proud brand-new Opera House will probably be inundated by 2030, but my compatriots – voters and consumers – like to “think positive”.

Yes, I was wrong, I repeat. As dangerous as atomic energy production is, it entails far fewer deaths than what we can expect in the not too distant future. We are heading straight into a very dramatic situation, but no government in Europe, least of all in my own country, is prepared to pay the political price of demanding that citizens atone for sins that they don’t feel they have committed.

So since we are so democratically determined to continue pursuing market liberalism, I fear we have no alternative but to embrace atomic energy as a source of energy, and to build nuclear power plants at a breathtaking speed.

Jul 112018

Mine is a green country. Not politically green, albeit, but green as in pine trees, mountain rivers and grasshoppers.

No, I don’t live in Greenland, which is not green, as it happens. Moreover, my country is only green for four months a year, and I grew up wearing long woollen underwear for the remaining 8 months, four of which were decidedly white – you know, the colour you see on Christmas cards – and four of which were tantalisingly undetermined. Autumn was anything but green, but gloriously colourful and crisp unless early snowfalls turned it into a soggy grey porridge, so grey and dark that it suctioned all spirit out of about a quarter of the population. Spring, however, made us weep or laugh hysterically, as glittering icicles would melt and brooks tinkle one day, only to turn hard as stone the next. And it would go on like that for two whole excruciating months, at the end of which we would be quite woozy.

We longed passionately for Summer in spite of the periodically daily showers, the mosquitoes and wasps, and the ice-cold floors that would meet our naked feet as we got out of bed in the morning. We loved the little patches of farmland scratched out of the landscape we passed on our way to summer vacation as the guests of aunts and uncles in the country. As for the distant blue mountains, we took them for granted, as we did delicate birch trees, bluebells, waterfalls, furry bumblebees and warblers.

Above all, though, we loved those rare days – maybe a week or two every year – of “real” summer, when we left town seeking those warm, smooth coastal granite shelves on which we would bask or rise to dive like terns into the sea. No matter if summers were full of rain, if day after day was uniformly grey, cool and wet, our mental health for eight months depended on those rare days of “real” summer.

I speak in the past, as you see. Winters are no longer white, for one thing, and the seasons are all mixed up. This year, an unusually cold Winter started when Spring should have begun, and all of a sudden, on 14 May, Summer erupted with a vengeance. Andalusian temperatures, no less. People couldn’t sleep at night. Not a drop of rain, not a cloud in the sky, not a single fly or wasp to be seen, not to mention bees or bumblebees.

Eventually, after four weeks, torrential rains battered us for one day. Floods, avalanches, even deaths. After a couple of cool days, a new heat wave bore down upon us.

No rain. Weeks and weeks of no rain. The country isn’t used to this. Farmers aren’t used to this. Animals aren’t used to this. There is no grass for livestock, and slaughterhouse employees are being called back to work in mid-holiday. Never, ever, as far back as records go, has there been such a long-lasting heat wave and drought in these parts. But we, the cityfolks, are blissfully unaware of the farmers’ plight. So was I, until ….:

I sought refuge from the heat in a cottage by the sea. How I enjoyed basking, once more, on a warm granite coastal shelf! How ecstatically I dove into the sea. My joy was, however, short-lived: On the island across the sound, a ewe with her two lambs was disconsolately examining the stones and shells of a little beach, while a solitary lamb was bleating pitifully, as it ran back and forth along the shore. It had evidently lost its mother. Have you ever heard a lamb bleating for its mother? The lamb was several months old and quite able to fend for itself, I should have thought, but it was, I insist, heart-broken. No other word will do. Some of its cries were uncannily similar to those of an abandoned child! I could not bear the sound and ran indoors.

Even there, the lamb’s cries pursued me. Until it fell silent. That was almost worse, because I was sure it was still there. I looked out the window, and indeed, there it was, lying by the shore. It had lost all hope. I asked myself: can lambs be suicidal?

I could not stand the idea, so I went out again and down to the shore. As if sensing the existence of an ally in me, a human on the opposite shore, the lamb jumped up, ran back and forth along the shore bleating even more desperately than before. Just how desperate it was became apparent almost immediately, because it waded into the sea, deeper and deeper – ‘NO!’, I shouted and started talking off my clothes, because a lamb is not a dog who obeys orders, while deeper and deeper it went, and of course in the end, the sea lifted it off its feet.

It swam, would you believe it! I’m sure it had never learnt to swim, but it swam, knowing, as it must have, that the alternative was death by drowning. Staring straight into my eyes, it swam and bleated, while I stood waiting for it with tears streaming down my face.

No, I did not have to go out and rescue a drowning lamb. It managed to swim across the sound and clambered to shore, looking no less frightened than it should, because humans are mostly dangerous for sheep, though some humans offer fodder and a safe haven. It had risked its life by trusting me, and now it doubted.

There is one thing I have not told you, though. I knew where its mother was. She had crossed the sound over to my side a few hours previously, taking one of her two lambs with her, and they had all been taken care of by good people and their children, who also phoned the owner. “Come,” I said, “follow me”. The lamb had no alternative but to follow hesitantly, evidently terrified that I would lead it to the slaughterhouse.

The children who were looking after the mother were the first to see it. Their gleeful shouts alerted the ewe, and I shall never forget the ensuing concerto for a reunited ewe and two lambs in two octaves. The joy was simply – I apologise for abusing the word – heartbreaking.

Two days later, I crossed to the island to inspect matters there. Walking around the entire island would have taken the better part of a day, but I turned back halfway. The sights that met me were too depressing. Barren fields. Dead vegetation. No fresh water. Not even mosquitoes.

I came upon the owner of the sheep, who was rounding them up to drive them elsewhere. I dared not ask: Was she going to the slaughterhouse? She was unhappy: Two were missing, a ewe and a lamb. We both knew that they might have crossed over to my side and drowned.

What can you do?

Jan 062018

What if we lived in a world where the powers-that-be set out to eradicate children who were less than excellent students, women who were less than very sexy, men who were not both muscular and smart?

Such a policy would be far more radical than mere eugenics, (cf. Nazism and Joseph Mengele), yet enterprises in this vein are not altogether unheard of. After all, the whites did go after the reds, the blacks, the browns and, most recently, the Jews; though of course the Jews were white too, which only goes to show that race really is irrelevant.

The good news is that unless some crackpot presses one of those famous buttons, the planet will survive and with it the human species, for good or for worse.

As the climate becomes ever more ornery and unpredictable, investors will be happily occupied in satisfying new consumer needs. There will be a market for protection against erratic climate tantrums: hurricane-proof and tsunami-resistant systems, self-replenishing underground lakes, desalination plants. We already have a booming industry of carbon sequestration and ocean plastic capture projects. Eventually, of course, clean energy will be the rule, not the exception, resulting in new scrambles for market positions.

The problem is that very few of us can afford having our own underground artificial lakes. Now if you are lucky enough to live in a country that requires even its wealthy  inhabitants to pay taxes, your government may be able to afford systems to protect you against extreme climatic events, at least for a few years. Provided of course that all the taxes paid are not diverted to “defence”. Parenthetically, I wish to point out that my quotation marks refer to the fact that in some countries, the word “defence” means “attack”.

The ultimate climate débâcle will not kill us all, rest assured. The one percent who can afford palaces with artificial self-replenishing lakes under tsunami-resistant, hurricane-proof, self-cleaning glass bells will need underpaid workers to man their factories, clerks to send their invoices, male and female hookers to satisfy their sexual needs, interpreters to help them communicate with competitors on other tectonic plates, nurses to tend their spastic parents and psychopathic offspring. There is hope for us all: many will find a safe haven from the vindictive climate under the wings of the one percent, also in future.

Many will not. Among those who will not, we will see blacks, browns and — oh yes — whites. Many of them. There will be devoted fathers, good musicians, kind little girls, dreamers, surfers, biologists, house painters, and geniuses. Many of these people will be stacked away in rat-infested refugee camps along the borders, where they may or may not be fed. Others will try to survive as fugitives, stealing and fighting each other over water, blankets and toilet paper.

Thanks to those of us who are elected to serve the one percent ( I am glad that I don’t have much longer to live) they will be spared from having to inbreed and give birth to three-headed babies. Pity. I would have loved to learn the eugenic outcome of a hundred years’ inbreeding. Would mating emperors create smarter babies than the rest of us do now?

Finally, bearing in mind that we are facing a new year with a few quite sinister clouds on the horizon, I would like to add that sometimes things turn out very much better than we feared. Nevertheless, we should all — young and old and in-between — be a little alert, to say the least. Is there anything we can do to make things better, for instance?

And — sorry to say this — but please take a look at my post “Encryption“, just to be on the safe side.

Sep 102017

Almost blinded by the sun and my own perspiration as I drag myself up the steep hill, I find that the cobbled roads are near empty while the normally empty bars are packed. Packed with men, shouting men. Football, I assume, and snarl.

Mind you, I don’t at all mind football. What bothers me is all that seems to be so evident if we objectively look at a football stadium or study the comportment of men around TV screens when certain games are being played. “We’re in this together,” they seem to be saying, “our team!” “fight till death”, “kill the infidel”, or as General Halil of Janjaweed says, “eliminate anything in my way!”

General Halil is fighting for no cause other than himself. And he has earnest supporters, including loyal and good men who think they are fighting for a worthy cause, men who believe in Halil by virtue of his “strength”. A strong general is a good general, they think. Alas, ruthlessness and callousness is often mistaken for strength, as the US is kind enough to remind us at regular intervals.

The US is a deeply religious country, as are Israel and Saudi Arabia, its close allies. The crimes against humanity committed by those three countries are such that more and more people in my country are saying that religion is the root of all evil.

No, I say, religion is not the root cause of war. The root cause is what we see when we watch those who watch professional football. After a match, people sometimes get bashed to death. The spectators’ arousal, almost sexual in nature – indeed, fired by male hormones surging as the battle is played out before their eyes – makes them dangerous. They are one with the players, identifying with them (“our” team, “us”) , admiring them, enjoying a moment in the sun of borrowed fame and glory, and ready to defend them with their lives, if need be.

Now, some people will retort that war is not necessarily bad. Some wars, they will say, are just, wars for freedom, for instance, wars for liberation from oppression. Of course this argument is neither here nor there, since we will never all agree as to what wars are just, will we? Forget WWII, there have been infinitely many wars since, and in all of them there will have been at least one big bad bully against whom resistance is at least justifiable. Sadly, even the oppressed are usually also lead by big bad bullies, since – again – what is mistaken for strength tends to inspire confidence.

Football makes it all so clear: What spectators by the billions see and admire is: brute force, naked muscle, precision and cunning. They will rise to their feet as one, almost levitating, and they will all feel, for a few magic moments, omnipotent. In short, they will loose, not only their voices from screaming, but also their heads. Who needs drugs or religion to go to war prepared to die? Give me a general who can generate the electric current of a football match, and he will be in business, regardless of the cause.

I, too, long to – more than that – I need to admire. I particularly enjoy feeling kinship with those that I admire. I, too, feel elevated when any of my heroes “wins” a battle.  But my heroes are neither callous nor ruthless, and their strength is not muscular.Today, I finished a novel in which one of my favourite protagonists, George Smiley, definitely sealed his long-time opponent’s casket. Characteristically, Smiley did not enjoy his moment of glory, due to ruminations that I shared with him.

I wonder what Smiley would have made of the global mess we’re in now. For one thing, this little Spanish town on the top of its cliff is becoming near uninhabitable due to summer heat and winter cold. What would Smiley have suggested? I imagine him turning off the light to go to sleep. Outside his wide open window, the neighbours have finally come out of their houses, seeking relief in the evening breeze. Fathers, children, grandmothers, gossiping women… the street is full of their laughter, their pleasant chatting. Yet for all their easy pleasure, he cannot help hearing, still, the continued low wailing of a woman he knows is 97. She wails day and night, but as he knows, she has been out of this world for years. She cannot talk, cannot tell her surroundings why she is so unhappy. Her children take turns looking after her, and they all visit her almost daily. Every day she is dressed and cherished.

Smiley plays with ideas of what may be occupying her mind. After all, she is nearly a century old; think of what she has seen and endured!

Finally, Smiley falls asleep, covered only by a sheet. When he wakes up, he knows he was woken by a sound, and he soon hears it again, a thrill sound that ends in a tremulous sigh. He sits up in bed, because there is no mistaking an owl. An owl? This is definitely not owl country! But hark, there is another one. And another. Standing by now, stark naked in the middle of the room, he hears them all – four owls on different roof tops, one of them just above him on his own roof.

After a few moments, he sadly goes back to bed. Even the owls have lost their marbles, he muses.

And that was the best my hero could do, alas. Can you do better?