David Olusoga described his emotions on seeing his grandparents’ lives recorded in the 1921 census (“Time fell apart when I saw how my grandfather lived a century ago. The story is become intimate”, Commentary). I too wept while researching the history of my family through the censuses of 1841 and following. My ancestors lived in the industrial city of Birmingham and experienced the hardships of that time, including overcrowding, infant mortality and low life expectancy. I found my ancestors in orphanages and asylums and discovered the range of trades they practiced in the “city of a thousand trades”. Their work was hard and often did not provide an income to cover decent housing, even if it had been available, even though the goods they made were sold around the world. It’s a story I never learned in school and rarely see on screen.
During the pandemic, we have begun to wake up to the issues of historical and contemporary injustices, but we are still a divided society and ready to turn a blind eye to the fact that we benefit from the work of people who cannot afford housing. decent and healthy food, whether in this country or elsewhere. It is the key workers who have been so essential over the past two years.
Johnson’s time is up
“Only a leveling up can save Johnsonism from being an empty creed” (Commentary): The title of Anne McElvoy’s thoughtful column was wrong in only one crucial point. There is no “Johnsonism” and there never was, only an unprincipled political shape-shifter driven by hubris, personal ambition and a delusional image of himself as some sort of reincarnated Churchill. . From Brexit to the gaffes of the Covid crisis and a reliance on catchy slogans about coherent political strategies, Boris Johnson embodied a passing public appetite for the ‘famous politician’ with hollow comic flair replaced by serious and substantial ideas.
Polls suggest the public is now ahead of most media in seeing through Johnson on several fronts, including Brexit where Buyers Remorse continues to gain momentum as reality replaces poorly sold fantasy. Combine that with the looming cost of living crisis and a sordid, hypocritical legacy that will refuse to go away and 2022 is the year the Conservative Party’s ruthless survival instincts will seal Johnson’s fate. The results of May’s local elections could well prove a breaking point when the men in blue suits conclude that the Prime Minister’s time is up. In the two words with which Ms. McElvoy concluded: tick tock.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Smart shopping? Barely
Supermarkets hold a special place in retail because everyone needs food (“Are smart supermarkets heralding the end of shopping as we know it?”, Magazine). Big companies (whether existing supermarkets or new entrants like Amazon) tell us that ‘smart’ stores are to our benefit, but in reality they save businesses money. And are these savings returned to the customer at lower prices? No, they increase company profits and therefore dividends to shareholders. And what happens to the cash desk and other low-paid employees who lose their jobs? They will likely need state benefits. Thus, automating our procurement becomes another indirect route (alongside privatization or outsourcing of public sector functions) to funnel taxpayers’ money into shareholders’ pockets. But if too many people lose their jobs to “smart” automation, who will pay taxes to fund benefits for those left unemployed or underemployed?
Stop trying. start thinking
“Can you believe yourself young?” (the new review) looks at the question from the wrong side. Evolutionary and resource constraints dictate that the growth and numbers of all living things must be limited. For the vast number of species, this means death. Thus, it could be that thinking fatally about death makes the inevitable easier to face and quicker to come. And to ensure that future generations have a habitable planet, we all, at all ages, need to “rethink our perceptions” that we still need to achieve something to be fulfilled. The constant effort can be exhausting for the individual and ruinous for the planet. A better question might be, “Can you believe yourself at peace?” »
So much for going green
A subtitle of the article “What I learned from my year with an electric car” (Focus) equates driving an electric car with going green. The huge carbon costs of manufacturing and transporting cars, the environmental and human costs of mining lithium, the huge amount of electricity needed to enable mass use of the electric car, the damage to health human particulate pollution caused by the friction between the tires and the tarmac: these do not correspond to going green.
We must stop presenting electric cars as good for the environment. They are simply less harmful than petrol or diesel cars. Going green means walking, cycling and using public transport.
Science, but not as we know it
In “Is this the dawn of post-theory science?” (the new journal), Laura Spinney paints a picture that should be familiar, but depressing, to many workers in the humanities and life sciences. She asks if the “classic hypothesis, prediction and test methodology” has been replaced by big data and machine learning. As she rightly notes, it’s about replacing the traditional scientific project of understanding the world with that of simply predicting it. But it is not a question of proposing a new way of doing science, but of proposing not to do science at all. We understand that Facebook and Google want to “stop looking for the causes of things and settle for correlations”. But why should mankind?
It’s easy Simon
Simon Reeve’s reflections on his travels (“I’m Afraid I’m a Climate Hypocrite”, News) should serve as an incentive for program managers to consider their impact on the environment. There may be a case (as Reeve explains) for engaging audiences by capturing “honest stories about what’s happening on our planet” and thereby shocking the viewer. However, such tactics have already been claimed, and they may do more to induce inertia and feelings of helplessness than to induce people to take positive action.
It’s much harder to justify entertainment by “celebrities” who travel miles by air, land and sea in motorized vehicles. Are they doing it on our behalf, so we don’t have to, helping us all to minimize our own carbon footprint? Or is it to present ourselves as having a joyous exit and invite us to do the same? This last possibility is all the more worrying in that it involves quests for ever new places to “discover”, places which have hitherto escaped the onslaught of tourism.
The plethora of media messages affirming what we need to do to fight climate change must translate into personal commitments of, I will do this today, tomorrow and after. Any program and broadcaster in the world around us should be able to justify the environmental cost associated with causing this change in attitude. In the absence of such justification, they really should face the charge of climate hypocrisy.
Frimley Green, Surrey
I am a (non-)believer
As a Catholic, I don’t agree with Harlan Coben’s view that, unlike Jews, “you don’t see too many Catholics…saying, ‘Oh, I’m a Catholic, but I don’t don’t buy a word of it'”. (“What I Know”, Magazine). This prompted a two-minute rant from my long-suffering wife, also a Catholic who doesn’t buy a word of it. I was therefore delighted to read, still in the Magazine (“Sunday with…”), the comment by musician Maverick Saber: “I went to a Catholic school like most children in Ireland, but we were not religious”.