I’ve had a lovely summer. I went to Ireland for a week to stay with my friend Gay near Galway and did my usual detox, eating fruit, vegetables and nuts and walking and doing yoga every day. It always leaves me feeling healthy and peaceful and each year I try to commit myself to some new good habit. Since I got back I have been swimming almost every morning! Apart from that I’ve been at home, getting things fixed, catching up with work and even reading novels. I recommend Philida by Andre Brink which is the story of a young slave woman just before the abolition of slavery in South Africa; the other one I enjoyed is the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.
Britain was certainly mesmerised by the Olympics. I got a bit worried when all my friends who were not interested in the Olympics started to leave London.They were convinced that it would be impossible to move around. In fact London was almost empty if you weren’t going in the direction of the Olympics, so I found that really pleasurable. I didn’t watch the opening ceremony on the night but there was so much fuss about it I watched it on iPlayer. I liked the progressive view of British history but it was far too long and the message seemed to be that since the Second World War, all we produced is the NHS, which we are rightly proud of, children’s books and pop music! And it cost £27 million. That is a lot of money.
The effort of the athletes is of course admirable but I didn’t like all the nationalism about medals. British commentators went on and on about how many medals team GB had won. It felt rather like the former communist countries going all out to prove they were better then others, through the intensive preparation of their athletes. This point was underlined when there was a fuss about the need to spend the same money as we had this time, on athletes training for the next Olympics in Rio because it was agreed that you can’t win medals unless you spend a lot of money. So it seems rather sad that even Olympic medals are in a way for sale. People used to talk about amateur efforts but now large numbers of the athletes seemed to be paid.
And the cost of the infrastructure was £11 billion. Some of it will leave permanent benefits but not all. I understand that there are decaying Olympic sites in Greece and football stadiums in South Africa. I think it would be better to have permanent sites in different countries so that the world shares in hosting the event and it doesn’t cost such an awful amount of money.
But I’ve just watched some of the disabled athletes carrying the torch through London in preparation for the paraOlympics and it brought tears to my eyes.
Wikileaks and Julian Assange
I’m afraid I do not find it convincing that Julian Assange must not be extradited to Sweden because that might mean that the US might seek his extradition. I fully agree that Wikileaks was a good thing, and that it probably annoyed the US intensely and they might well move against Assange. But if the US want him, he’s more likely to be extradited from the UK than from Sweden! I suspect he will be staying in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for a very long time.
However, when I heard the UK ambassador at the OAU meeting, assuring the members that the UK would not dream of invading Ecuador’s embassy in London because “Britain always respects international law”, I thought about Britain’s failure to insist that Israel complies with international law, and it reminded me again of the deep hypocrisy at the centre of our foreign policy.
World food prices
Because there has been a heatwave and drought in much of the US world food prices are rising strongly. In 2007/ 8 there were riots in more than 20 countries as food costs surged. It is likely that we will see more trouble this year and next. Many people in developing countries spend the majority of their income on food so increased prices have devastating consequences.
This is a short-term, but very serious problem, in the long term we are likely to see serious strains on food availability. Food prices have risen for 3 main reasons. Demand for meat from the expanding middle-class in developing countries (especially China) has grown considerably (1 pound of beef requires 30 pounds of grain and 1 pound of pork requires twelve pounds of soya). Secondly global population is continuing to grow. And thirdly the weather has become more unstable and hostile to farming. The UN has estimated that the world will need to increase food production by 60% over the next 4 decades. These levels of increased production will be difficult to achieve as we use up natural fertilisers costs of other inputs continues to grow.
Tenth anniversary of the “dodgy dossier”
It is already 10 years since Blair/Campbell gave us the dossier that exaggerated the intelligence on the threat from WMD in Iraq and led to the death of Dr Kelly, the whitewash from Hutton and the “resignation” of Greg Dyke as Director General of the BBC. Kevin Marsh who was editor of the Today programme when Andrew Gilligan made his famous broadcast has a book about to be published called Stumbling over Truth: The inside story of the sexed-up dossier, Hutton and the BBC. It is well worth reading.
- In 1820, China and India were nearly half of world income; in 1950 they were less than one 10th, they are now about 1/5, the projection is that by 2025 they will be about one third (Bardhan Pranab, Awakening Giants).
- For 10 months in 1916 the Battle of Verdun occupied in excess of 3 million soldiers within an area no larger than 10 square kilometers. No territorial gains were made but there were 800,000 casualties and the area was rendered unusable for agriculture for decades (quoted by Tim Jacobi from ARRC Journal Winter 2005).
- In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bomb killed 300,000 people, almost all civilians.
- The number of people in Iron Aged Britain in the 1st century BC were 3 to 4 million Average life expectancy at birth was 25 but if a child reaches the age of 5 and it was 30. Men lived slightly longer than women because many women lost their life in childbirth.
- In 1830 American manufacturing workers put in an average of 69 hours per week. By 1900 this had fallen to 57 hours, and today the number is 40. (FT 15/8/12 Sebastian Mallaby).
- In the early 1960s, one in 10 European women worked outside the home. Now more than 7 in 10 do and it is better paid and better educated women who are most likely to work.(FT 15/8/12 Sebastian Mallaby).
- From FT editorial on US tax system, August 2nd: “Far more sensible than the current messy US system would be combining a move towards territorial taxation with tighter rules on transfer pricing – the convention that allows multinational corporations to fiddle their internal accounting to ensure earnings get reported in low tax jurisdictions. This would be helped by an international common standard for where a multinational’s profits are considered to rise.”