Category Archives: BBC

Going critical

The world’s first self-sustaining nuclear reaction took place in the west stands, Old Stagg Field, of the University of Chicago on 2nd December 1942. Which means that I was born in the atomic age. Just about.

I blanch at Enrico Fermi’s confidence in his own expertise, that one of the most (ahem!) explosive experiments in all science was undertaken alongside East 55th Street.

Coitus interruptus

Translate that to national economics, and today an experiment of comparable magnitude is happening next to Westminster Bridge. The (erstwhile) “Great Repeal Bill”, then down-rated to mere “Repeal Bill”, has now slithered into the light of parliamentary day as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

The Mayo Clinic reckons the withdrawal method of “contraception” has, in practice, a failure rate of 22%.

It’s hard, ain’t it hard?

Of course, today is only the First Reading, so little more than a nod-and-a-wink.

The real event will be the Second reading; and there we can expect the Labour Opposition to lay amendments, and vote against any substantive motion. With a nominal majority of a bare dozen (and that’s only achieved with the mercenary aid of the DUP), the work of the government whips will be severely taxing. This is where the business of minority government becomes progressively more onerous. All the Opposition has to do is keep the powder dry, and a cohort floating in and around the Commons chamber, and every single Tory (and paid DUPper) has to available for instant voting service.

The nearest to living through the dying months of the Callaghan Government is James Graham’s drama This House. I saw that in its original at the Cottesloe Theatre, so that must have been in the late autumn of 2012. Philip Glenister (yes, DCI Gene Hunt of Life on Mars) humanised the (more-brutish-in-real-life) Labour Whip, Bob Mellish. The best rôle was Charles Edwards as the Tory Whip (and later Speaker of the Commons) Jack Weatherill. The play was revived in the West End over the past winter. Next tour it will be on tour around the provincial theatres. It’s not just a good (arguably, great) play: it is supremely relevant to our present political predicament.

For anyone with socialist/anarchic tendencies (like myself), the progress of the Brexit legislation is going to somewhere between fascinating and a-laugh-a-minute. There are few things more delightful than watching the natural enemy impaled on a cross of his (or, in this case, her) own construction. As the BBC web-site summarises:

MPs must “work together” on Brexit, the minister in charge of the UK’s EU exit has said, as he published a bill to convert EU law into British law.

The legislation, known as the repeal bill, will ensure the same rules apply in the UK after Brexit, while giving UK parliaments the power to change them.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said he will “work with anyone” to make it a success, but he faces opposition.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron told the government: “This will be hell.”

Labour vowed to vote against the legislation unless there were significant changes to the details previously set out, while the SNP said there needed to be “clarity” over which powers repatriated from the EU should go to the devolved nations.

The Conservatives are relying on Democratic Unionist Party support to win key votes after losing their Commons majority in the general election.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said there could be “parliamentary guerrilla warfare” on the bill.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “For opposition parties and for Remainer Tories there is a sense today of ‘here we go’. This is government critics’ first big chance, bit by bit in Parliament, to try to put their version of Brexit, not Theresa May’s, on to the statute book”.

Formally known as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the draft legislation is a key plank of the government’s Brexit strategy.

Note therein: government critics’ first big chance, bit by bit in Parliament, to try to put their version of Brexit, not Theresa May’s, on to the statute book. This is why Theresa May was induced to go for that General Election, which was supposed to bring in a phalanx of Tory Brexiteers, all grateful to the all-powerful Theresa May for giving them their seat. This is why the Labour Opposition (who, where it counted, exploited the Remain tendency) feel the political wind behind them. This is why the SNP and Lib Dems feel they have a chance to regain lost ground. This is why, for all the Corbyn bounce and froth, the combined Opposition may not — yet — want to bring the whole thing crashing down. Better to watch, wait, and relish the Tories in a terminal agony.

The Tory press

What allowed Fermi’s reactor to “go critical” was withdrawing the control-rods:

A simple design for a control rod was developed, which could be made on the spot: cadmium sheet nailed to a flat wooden strip … The [thirteen-foot] strips had to be inserted and removed by hand. Except when the reactivity of the pile was being measured, they were kept inside the pile and locked using a simple hasp and padlock …

(Herbert Anderson, a research student at Columbia, under John R Dunning, who became Fermi’s assistant at Chicago, quoted by Richard Rhodes, pages 433-4)

The extent to which the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill goes critical, and toxic for the Tories, depends on how the public prints moderate the reaction. The analogy of those cadmium strips is how the “papers of record” record it. Since the UK press is heavily dominated by foreign and Brexiteering owners, I have little faith the delivery will be as honest (and inflammatory) as it should be.

Take, for an example, Iain Martin in today’s The Times.

His main thrust is:

Negotiating Brexit terms with a nascent superstate will require leadership that Theresa May is not equipped to provide

Out of the traps, one recognises a frothing Brexiteer by the travesty of the EU as a nascent superstate. It isn’t. It is a working model of 27 proud and separate nations who have chosen to subsume some aspects of sovereignty in a common enterprise. Martin even goes so far as to nominate the next Tory Prime Minister:

Of the available candidates the Brexit secretary David Davis looks to me the best choice and Boris seems done for. But the chancellor Philip Hammond could emerge, or a compromise candidate such as the home secretary Amber Rudd or Priti Patel, the international development secretary.

We can see we have wandered further into Cloud-Cuckoo-Land when Priti Patel (few come harder rightist) can be suggested as a compromise candidate.

Go forth, or fourth, and stupify

In the middle of Martin’s musings comes this:

Right now, Britain does not have any leadership: it must find it soon or lose badly.

Partly this is because voting to leave a superstate in the making is, it turns out, much easier than actually leaving. The hard Brexiteers had given too little thought to how it would be done, certainly. The softer Brexiteers (me included) cannot agree on what a compromise looks like. And gleeful ultra-Remainers want to try the experiment of telling the voters that last year’s referendum doesn’t count.

Martin elides any distinction between the Tory Party and the wider nation. If Theresa May is not up to the job, the whole national enterprise is rudderless, without leadership. Not so, unless we have truly evolved into an “imperial presidency”. The power in the land should be the collective will of the Commons. If there isn’t a dominating political majority, the various views represented in the Commons have to be sifted until a consensus (actually, no more than a general will of over 320-0r-so MPs) is arrived at.

But Martin’s worst bit of journalistic legerdemain is to assert there are only three possible viewpoints: hard Brexiteers, softer Brexiteers and gleeful ultra-Remainers. The 48% (or, as recent polling suggests, now nearer the mid-50s %) are all gleeful and, like the Irriducibili football hooligans of Lazio, ultras? Catch herself’ on, Iain!

Outside the foetid world of Tory tabloids, one general opinion is closer to a fourth category: soft Remainers.

These are the folk who, regretfully, accept what came out of the 23rd June 2016 referendum,

  • whether or not it was fairly run (the electorate was appropriately pruned),
  • whether or not we voters were told truths, half-truths, or diabolical lies,
  • whether or not a 48.1/51.9 split is final and decisive’
  • whether or not it multiple subsequent interpretations anyhow approximate to what was argued beforehand.

And “soft Remainers” are going to be the crucial mass of MPs and their noble Lordships who will be the equivalent of those cadmium rods, and determine the final shape of  the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

One practical example

What happened at Stagg Field has had consequences over the intervening three-quarters of a century (Grief! Am I that old?). It led to:

  • Hiroshima, and Nagasaki;
  • deterrence theory, and MAD;
  • some 500 nuclear power plants across thirty countries around the world;
  • Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl;
  • the production of 11 or 12% of global electricity supplies;
  • nuclear and isotopic medicines and advances.

One thing that has been universally agreed is that nuclear power should be controlled and regulated internationally. After various failures (the Baruch Plan, UNAEC, attempts at non-proliferation treaties), for sixty years we have had the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Not perfect, not wholly world-wide, but it largely works.

Gone critical

Across Europe and 29 nations we have Euratom. Originally Euratom was somewhat aside from the Coal and Steel Community, but was pursued as a discrete operation and source of energy. For convenience, Euratom was folded into the 1965 Merger Treaty of the EEC. Even after Maastricht in 1993, Euratom remained a separate entity, not under direct EU control. There is, logically, no reason why the UK should not remain as associated as Switzerland — except the bone-headedness of one, Theresa May, as the thrall of the Tory head-bangers. The objection by these types is the European Court of Justice’s

rare and arcane judgments on nuclear matters… Rules on nuclear energy are not politically sensitive and were not an issue in the referendum campaign. The government does not need to take such a rigid position on the ECJ in this domain.

(The Times, second leader, 12th July 2017.)

In recent days, all and sundry have recognised that the UK needs supplies of isotopes (for which we have no production facilities) through Euratom (which also gives access to 71% of world uranium production).

Then there is the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. It will be owned and un by EDF Energy. That is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Électricité de France. Which, some may think, raises intriguing questions of Euratom oversight.

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Filed under BBC, Britain, Conservative Party policy., DUP, EU referendum, Europe, health, History, Law, Music, Nuclear power, politics, Theresa May, Times, Tories.

Hung for a sheep as a goat?

ldRather enjoying the little spat (as reported on the BBC news web-site) arising from the Trump campaign’s claim to be “winning”. Obviously a meme borrowed from the Liberal Democrats here in the UK (heroes to zeroes on a single parliament).

To repeat the obvious, boy-wonder, chip of the old block, Eric Trump plucked a graphic out of the aether, to demonstrate the same phantasy that the all-winning Liberal Democrats have nurtured these many years. It demonstrated — but of course — how the Trump machine was steamrollering the American continent.

Unfortunately, the graphic he had chosen was lifted from fivethirtyeight.com to show how men were trending for Trump:

538

As compared to women:

538

Then the fun began: and it went quite silly. I was reckoning on “…if only goats voted” (based on USDA graphic for distribution of goats in the USA, showing a frightening concentration in Trumpish Texas), but then I recalled …

John Kennedy’s first outing as a Democrat politician wannabe was Massachusetts’s (then) 11th Congressional District. Patrician JFK worked his Irish-American patch assiduously, but was less-than-convincing with his accent and a hotel as his registered address, so he enrolled himself with the Knights of Columbus. The pay-off was candidates had to parade on St Patrick’s Day with a “relic” or token of Irish ancestry. Kennedy got landed with leading a goat. The JFK Presidential Library has the evidence:

goat

It was the goat what won it, and the rest — as they say — is history.

 

 

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Filed under BBC, Elections, History, United States, US Elections, US politics

These things really get up your nose

AP reports:

It’s one of the physics world’s most complex machines, and it has been immobilized — temporarily — by a weasel.

Spokesman Arnaud Marsollier says the world’s largest atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN outside of Geneva, has suspended operations because a weasel invaded a transformer that helps power the machine and set off an electrical outage on Thursday night.

Authorities say the incident was one of several small glitches that will delay plans to restart the collider by a few days.

Marsollier says Friday that the weasel died — and little remains of it.

Inevitably, I am reminded of The Ferret Song:

Nothing to add, really.

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Peacockery

The ScienceTake feature in the New York Times has an item on how peacocks use twerking and rustling to attract a mate’s attention. Ah, but ScienceTake had been this way before, and only a few months ago:

That’s the second time in a couple of days I’ve had peacocks drawn to my notice. This was the other:

I am thereby reminded of two further incidents.

The first was a TCD legend.

The graduates’ association felt that the Fellows’ Garden needed to be brightened by the addition of peacocks. One by one the daft birds escaped into College Green or Nassau Street; and met an untimely and messy end under Dublin Corporation buses. Some unkind souls suggested they were helped on their way by undergraduates who, like the protesting folk of Ushaw Moor, found the creatures disturbing their sleep.

The other came from an afternoon at Lisbon’s Castelo de São Jorge in Lisbon. Here, too, we find peacocks. They have enough wit to frequent the area around the café:

st-george-s-castle-castelo

So far, so good. The café is shaded by trees: itself a good idea when the sun beats down. However, the peacocks roost in these trees. And peacocks, especially when fed on the scraps from tourists tables, tend to be incontinent.

I watched for a few minutes, but the inevitable didn’t happen. Well, it didn’t happen just then …

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Filed under BBC, New York Times, travel, Trinity College Dublin

A farrago revisited

I think this is the third occasion I’ve had to point this out.

Today BBC2’s Daily Politics featured the unspeakable Nigel Farage. I was musing that Andrew “Brillo” Neil was giving the unspeakable an easy ride, when he concluded with that business between Ben Bradshaw and David Cameron over the unspeakable’s poncey pronunciation:

Neil then invoked the Oxford Dictionary’s expert, who got herself off the hook by saying the Dictionary didn’t include proper names per se. Since the unspeakable isn’t a vacuum cleaner or a move in ice-skating or an Irish land-agent involved in evictions he isn’t yet an eponym.

Yet far(r)age is in the OED. And here it comes:

Farrage

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Filed under Andrew Neil, BBC, David Cameron, Oxford English Dictionary, politics, reading, UKIP

A plan so cunning, you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel!

That’s Blackadder, but everyone of sense knew so.

Yesterday, in The Observer, Andrew Rawnsley was also with the fauna:

Number 10 scheduled David Cameron’s supposedly “definitive” speech on immigration for the Friday just gone in the hope that this would draw a line under that argument, persuade his party to shut up about it and clear the way for the chancellor to swivel the nation’s focus on to the economy this Wednesday. Like many of Downing Street’s cunning schemes, it has not worked to plan. The media, having been encouraged to believe that the prime minister’s speech would be a “game-changer”, have reacted with a sense of anticlimax when he stepped back from advocating the new controls on EU migration that had floated out of Number 10 beforehand.

One blackly humorous Labour figure jokes: “The media management has been so cack-handed that, for a moment, I thought we’d done it.”

One has to agree that no all is going well with the once-impeccable Tory Fibs Factory.

I mean, consider what went up this morning:

Amble

There are three coded messages there:

  1. Keep right to Amble on with slow delivery;
  2. Danger!
  3. If you’re a Tory woman, you’ll always be out in the cold,  looking over a cold shoulder.

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Filed under Andrew Rawnsley, BBC, David Cameron, Observer

Antrim? Not baffled one wee bit.

Nick Robinson, thee BBC Political Editor, offers “last minute” thoughts:

If you live in Accrington or Aberystwyth or Antrim, wherever you are in England or Wales, or Northern Ireland, I can see why it might be a little bit baffling. Forgive me, it may even be a bit boring at times.

OK: the alliteration is a nice touch.

However, I could assure Mr Robinson that the folk in Antrim are not baffled one tiny bit. In Antrim — as in Down, Armagh and points adjacent — they know precisely which foot they dig with.

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Filed under BBC, Nick Robinson, Northern Irish politics