Back to work

The world of work has been slow to revive since Freedom Day. The trains have been filling up for a while and the masks coming off, but the latter may be going into reverse.

Many are still working from home. Many (I suspect) will find the end of furlough is the beginning of unemployment, but with the economy picking up faster than expected, we might not be looking out at the apocalyptic wasteland we feared.

The trains are a lot busier than a fortnight ago, but even before then they were beginning to fill up. I saw passengers standing in the aisles this morning – albeit because they were still reluctant to squash bottom-to-bottom with fellow travellers.

Masks are still generally worn on the Tube in London in the morning at least. That will take a while to wear off, or a change in the Mayor’s commandment.

Shops, many of them, still display pious signs about wearing a face-muzzle and using that allergic goo on your hands, but I have seen no evidence of insistence, except in a couple of particularly close-confined venues in the Midlands.

Work itself does not stop. Builders have continued to build and to improve  buildings throughout the COVID period and shops have opened in hope in spite of the efforts of government to destroy them. Had the professions  which serve this activity actually stopped in lockdown then the economy would have collapsed irretrievably. The revolution has been the technology and broad broadband allowing some desk-jockeys to work almost seamlessly from home: this would not have been possible even a few years ago and for many it still would not be possible.

(It did seem sometimes that a few, those who ignored the lockdown and carried on as normal, were bearing the whole burden of keeping the ship from running into the rocks. It would need a better analysis to say how far that is true than a frustrated observation from behind an office desk.)

The working population now seems split into four: the dismissive and the fearful and the bullies as observed in earlier articles, but the majority are the meekly compliant. The  latter are dangerous. How can there be resistance to tyranny if even in Britain, the well-spring of individual freedom, there is such docility?

It looks from here as if lockdown did not end on 19 July 2021, but just started to fade away. There are still bullies who delight in putting hazard tape on the pavements and shouting signs on every highway. Now at least I feel better able to laugh in their faces, maskless, as they are made powerless.

You have to be the change you want to see. I want a change to normality.

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Jump off the bandwagon

Who needs conspiracies when you have the Local Government Chronicle?  Who would have thought that ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’ would be a good idea, let alone that officers in every council would actively pursue them widely across their areas?

This is just the latest runaway bandwagon. I lose track of how many there have been over the last decade. Sometimes they are cancerous growths uncontrollably erupting out of a passing thought from government. Sometimes they are homegrown from the fevered imagination of a bored local government officer. All it takes is for the idea to be given a name and a supporting article and then to be circulated. The original context will soon be forgotten as the idea, which is now a technical term, takes on a life of its own. The Local Government Chronicle or any of several niche sectorial publications is a good way to publicise an idea to seek validation from ones peers. A suggestion may be read as a command. The very act of publication lends authority, which the idea might or might not deserve.

These initiatives I have in mind are not the political ones dreamed up by politicians making a political points in spite of the needs of their residents, or seeking a few inches in the local paper. Those are well known and obvious. The pernicious bandwagon ideas are those invented by administrators themselves, local and national, and spread like the plague across the country.

An idea which is current will be considered. It is a principle of local administration in particular that if an idea is current there is a duty, considered as a legal duty, to consider it and try to fit it in somehow. Opposition from politicians or residents can be dismissed as ignorant: they have not read the paper, after all.

The point is, that ideas circulated amongst councils can be good ides that answer many a problem, the circulation of which is of the greatest benefit to localities everywhere. They can also be very bad ideas, just written in convincing language, which will cause endless damage. They may also be ideas suitable at one time and in one place, for a particular concept, the originator or which deserves praise, but which in another place or context is a disastrous initiative. There is no duty to further them or even to consider them: only a duty to serve the residents competently and to their benefit.

It takes a nimble imagination to distinguish between the appropriate and the madcap, and administrative officers are not known for their nimbleness of mind (for reasons much explored in other articles here, and which will be again no doubt). They should stop and climb off a bandwagon going the wrong way

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Lockdown breakdown

Approaching Freedom Day, I looked around at how the nation is reacting in different places. We thought the nation was divided over Brexit, but Maskxit…

In London, the original plague-pit of COVID-19, masks are a rare, exotic fashion accessory. Shops still insist, but wearing one in the street draws a double-take. On the Tube the full force of law demands that all travellers be muzzled, but I have seen journeys where only a minority are. The young and fit frequently do not bother, and they must know that if they get it they are barely at risk. The double-jabbed (as I am) should not have to worry, but the law still insists, and if one is to be a pillar of the community one is expected to look like a pillock in the community. As soon as the crowd though crushes together through the exit, the masks are ripped off in disgust.

One observation: amongst those of East Asian extraction, masks are more commonly worn on the street – maybe more amongst those visiting from those plague-ridden lands who are in the habit.

In other towns there is no observable pattern, other than to see that lockdown is breaking down and has been for some time, not just in anticipation of Freedom Day. The vulnerable elderly are more likely to be in masks, even though presumably they have been jabbed, and it is one-use surgical masks as the muzzle of choice. (Cambridge I found works by a different rhythm: you see more masks on the street, worn apparently for virtue-signalling, or a political statement. You can tell the type.)

Shops are a mixture. Some do the bare minimum on masks and things: they know it has all got a bit silly. Some are all so uptight and demanding on muzzles, tracking, one-way systems and that goo that causes your hands to come out in blotches, that you wonder if they actually want customers. Some pubs will allow no one through threshold unless they have the government’s spy-app (so I go elsewhere). On the other side, in plenty of shops and pubs no one wears a mask, so it would be impolite to do so myself: it would look as if I were silently judging everyone who goes bare-faced.

Monday approaches; Freedom Day. However it is far from back to normal. The lamentable Mayor of London is insisting on masks on London Underground for as long as the virus is with us – but since it is now endemic in the population, that will be forever. He may find his rule impossible to enforce: even when the rule is law, it is commonly flouted. Several venues public and private up and down the land have announced that face-nappies must still be worn, without an end date. (What are they worried about? They can’t be prosecuted or blamed.)

Self-isolation is to remain too, and they are not even allowing the partial exemption for the fully vaccinated until August (and that exemption will be limited even so). It is particularly poor timing that Sajid Javid has just been tested positive with a snuffle: it has fuelled demands for eternal lockdown. Well, if the disease has still been spreading in spite of the lockdown, it’s not going to help to do it again.

It comes down to the analysis Fay wrote at the beginning: the nation is divided into the terrified the fed up and the bullies. The bullies are certainly in the ascendant at the moment.

It is a stifled cheer then for Freedom Day on Monday, but a look forward to genuine freedom when the unofficial lockdown breaks down entirely.

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Victory in the heights

Soaring above 50 miles high in a beauty of a vessel, the age of space tourism began. The Unity-22 flight by Virgin Galactic, with a British pilot and British passengers, opens a new era, not just for multi-millionaires who can afford the experience, but for options for spaceflight in general.

Yes, Blue Origin will be coming along later, and their New Shepard is a most brilliant machine, but it does not swoop out across the sky and glide home with the elegance of a swallow, as Branson’s did. Virgin Galactic has built an aeroplane to space.

It was a very Branson occasion. The flight was short, the presentation glitzy, with a rock band plying for the crowds, whoops and cheers, and a presentation reminding us of all the other Virgin-branded endeavours Richard Branson is leading – including his investment in Elon Musk’s hyperloop.

For those who have followed the career of Burt Rutan, Spaceship Two, of which Unity is the one flying example at them moment, is unmistakably his: it has his familiar curves all over it and crowns a most remarkable life of aircraft design. (That said, he has not stopped, even in retirement.)

It shows us how things have changed. This is not the X-15 rocket-plane, with a pilot cramped inside a cabin barely big enough to move his arms, fighting to keep control of a wayward machine – Unity has a passenger cabin with comfy seats, lounge room, yet it flies as high and as fast as the X-15.

Up until now, we have always had astronauts who were carefully chosen men, the best pilots entrusted with the fasted aircraft, young and trained to the peak of fitness, as they had to be so as endure being confined in a narrow box, to endure the crushing forces of blast-off on a converted ICBM, and to keep exact control of a tumbling capsule. Now we have Richard Branson, fit perhaps but 70 years old, stepping from the spacecraft at the end without showing any discomfort. That is a great achievement.

Jeff Bezos will be taking an eighty year-old lady, a veteran pilot: that too shows how far rocketry has come.

The key element of both Spaceship Two and New Shepard is 100% reusability. Spaceship Two is a spaceplane and New Shepard a vertical rocket, two very different concepts. There is room for each, and for SpaceX, which will take passengers even into orbit. The idea of a spaceplane is to use up the fuel in the ascent, and then glide back to Earth empty, while for a reusable rocket there are no wings, which reduces friction but requires the vessel to keep much of the propellant ready to relight the engines for a controlled descent.

Space for everyone is in reach. There has been talk of taking Tom Cruise to the International Space Station just to film a scene for a Mission Impossible film: that would have been inconceivable before Elon Musk made it a reality.

Will Virgin Galactic put paying passengers into orbit? They have put satellites into orbit. After yesterday, it is only a matter of time before customers are taken on orbital flights, and whether they will beat Blue Origin I do not know.

The years ahead of us will be exciting.

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Fiction:

Will Drakeford demolish the castles?

There seems no stopping wokery in the Welsh administration, even as it is being discredited and driven back elsewhere. Its iconoclasm has personal approval from Mark Drakeford, or he is playing coward in the face of its demands.

He has not yet said that he will demolish the innumerable castles of Wales, but logically, if he is consistent, that would be his next step.

Had it been just been that he let the statue-toppling activists run amok and make fools of themselves on paper, that could be dismissed as a weak but harmless bit of virtue-signalling. Instead he actually, unbelievably, seems to be taking them up on it. The activists’ report came out in November 2020 (to outrage from all sides in society the length and breadth of Wales). Then Drakeford scraped back in at the election in May 2021, and has published a government programme that includes a pledge to “Address fully the recommendations from the Monuments and Street Names Audit”. That suggests he actually means to do it.

If you employ a committee to find ‘problematic’ street names and monuments, there are two consequences:

  • Those putting themselves forward to sit on the commission will be the most virulent of activists;
  • They will do the job with glee – they can hardly come back with “there is no problem really”.

“This is not about rewriting our past or naming and shaming”, they say in the report. Actually, that is exactly what it is about. Listing names and placing against each your condemnations is literally “naming and shaming”; and obliterating the memory of heroism and nobility in favour of narrow criteria for condemnation, then effacing the knowledge of the honour of the subject is literally rewriting our past.

The list of those named and shamed could be torn apart easily enough: Nelson condemned by a forged letter; Gladstone, the arch liberal, because he inherited money; Iolo Morganwg condemned not for being a forger and fraud but again for mere passive inheritance. Many are the examples. Intellectually it is so defective, so void of method that it would be scandalous if meant in earnest. Still, if a committee is paid to find names, it will scrape the barrel for them.

If the issue is eliminating the symbols of division, and even street names must go, how can the castles stand?

Welsh castles are monuments to division and hatred and brutal feudalism. The Middle Ages were a ferocious time: rival petty princes ravaged Wales, wasting villages and valleys for personal gain or feud. Norman or Cambro-Norman lords joined them in the mêlée of continuous civil war. This age is portrayed by habit of oversimplification as struggles between Welsh and English, but that is a nonsense, not least because the distinction between the two identities was unreal, lost by generations of intermarriage and adoption of shared customs.

Yet the castles stand, portrayed as a collective monument to tribal war and hatred. The ‘historic’ presentations available in print and on video about each castle cheer or boo and portray the English (however defined) as ruthless invaders and despoilers. It is a ridiculous, sub-Marxist way of looking at it, but this portrayal is widely believed: you will not speak for long amongst Welsh political activists before one tribe is accused of being an eternal oppressor of the other. That is division and hatred at a massive scale.

If therefore a social problem in the far off United States is enough to demand that statues be torn down here and roads people live on be renamed, because of an off-chance that someone will choose to be upset, what of those great stone legacies that, by socialist interpretation, breed tribal hatred? They surely must go.

The castles can be portrayed however you wish. The Iron Ring of King Edward’s castles was constructed to bring peace, by force if necessary, and it did, ending feudal wars so that for the first time the farms and towns of those lands could flourish.

Others see them as symbols of oppression, and a longer lasting one than that in distant islands, a more direct one than the chance of an honest man’s inheriting some money from a slaveholder. Logic then would add every castle in the land to Drakeford’s hit list. They need protection from this madness.

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