All Posts Filed in ‘Politics


The three Goldilocks

Three Goldilocks planets discovered orbiting the same star. They’re all in the Goldilocks zone where water can exist in liquid form, which is supposedly necessary for life as we know it. Perhaps any kind of life. Almost certainly for any kind of advanced life, though who can be sure? So if advanced civilizations developed on one or more of those planets they would quite likely visited the other life-supporting planets in their system at an early stage of development, the stage we’re at know, and perhaps in learning about those other planets that were quite like their home planet they may have learned to look after their own planet better. Or if they did trash it, at least they’d have a Planet B to move to, and then a Planet C after that if they wanted to. Then maybe they’d be advanced enough to travel to other stars and they’d happen across us, this remote planet, like an Easter Island to their Europe, and they’d witness us doing to our planet just what they did to their Planet A. Would they intervene and stop us or would they sit back and watch us with great academic interest? Historical interest as to their historians it might be like watching their own history unfold in a parallel universe.


On sharing and toddler nature

The Professor’s mother mentioned how she thought some parents treated their children like little adults. She thought this was wrong. I asked her what she meant. Could she give me an example? All sorts of things could be described as trying to get children to behave like adults. Teaching them to walk, for instance, or encouraging them to walk as I don’t think it’s something you really teach them.

A couple of days later she got onto the subject again and it was only then that it was clear she was referring to my efforts to get The Professor to share his toys. Toddlers aren’t meant to share, she said. They’re not old enough to understand what it means.


Brixton, London

There is a hole in the roof of the house I am living in and people are coming in, down a ladder. I don’t know where they’re coming from but there are loads of them. Some of them I know but most of them are strangers. They’re making themselves at home. I’m not sure if this is my house or not. Maybe it isn’t. Most of these people are quite friendly. I don’t really want to kick them out, and I think if I asked them to leave they would just be baffled.


Thessaloniki, Greece

I’ve just taken the overnight train from Athens. Sitting in the smoky station cafe waiting for the connection to Skopje, Macedonia, having just eaten a sickly sweet king-size chocolate croissant with Nutella-type chocolate oozing out of it.


Email to Gordon Brown

Re: Government response to petition ‘NoVATonBikes’

Dear Gordon

Thanks for the reply. It’s good of you to get back to me. Tony never did. However, I’m a bit disappointed you don’t want to go for this, and your response that you can’t because the EU won’t let you sounds a bit lame, and plays into the hands of Eurosceptics (you’re not a Eurosceptic are you?). If Europe is a democratic institution, which it’s supposed to be, then surely the British government could campaign to abolish VAT on bikes and bike parts as part of a Europe-wide kind of thing. Climate change is going to affect all EU nations so I would have thought they would all want to encourage people out of their cars and onto bikes wherever possible. As well as being good for the environment, cycling is also good for people’s health and for their state of mind. When you’re on a bike you’re open to a world, and on public transport you’re in a social environment, whereas people who spend too long in cars, closed off to the world and to the people around them, end up like Jeremy Clarkson, which I’m sure you’ll agree is not good.


Message from Gordon Brown

You recently signed a petition asking the Prime Minister to “Encourage
people to cycle by removing VAT on bicycles, tricycles and human powered
vehicles and on all cycling parts and spares.”

The Prime Minister’s Office has responded to that petition and you can view
it here:


Paris, France

I’ve just met Max and Stacy of KarmaBanque. I’m interviewing Max on Wednesday. I’d quite like to interview Stacy as well, but today it was Max doing most of the talking. That’s how it is on the radio as well. He has a lot to say. Here’s a summary, from memory, so all quotes are approximate:

The best thing the world could do to improve the environment would be to increase the price of money. The price of money is artificially low. As a result America can borrow money almost for free to fight its wars, Exxon can borrow money almost for free to prospect for oil, Morgan Sachs can borrow money almost for free to do whatever it is they do. The Bank of Japan has an interest rate of 0.25%. So there’s free money there, if you can afford to pay the interest on the minimum amount they let you borrow, $50 million, Max thought, so that would mean to borrow that for a year you’d have to pay $125,000 (about £63,000) but then you could invest the $50 million you have in something with a guaranteed return of 10% or so, which is not so hard to find, and you’ve made yourself a virtually risk-free $5 million.

It’s alright if you’re rich. If you’ve got money it’s easy to make more, but if you’re living on $1 a day and your water supply is being polluted by the Coca Cola company what can you do about it? Apparently there’s a big campaign in India against Coke. There’s a big campaign against Coke in Nunhead as well, home of the Boycott Coca Cola Experience. And rich investors are also taking an interest. That’s what’s hard to believe. Rich investors becoming activists? And activists becoming investors. This is not politics, Max said. This is economics. Investors have come to realize that boycotts can have an effect of share prices, and share prices are the only things they really look at. If they can see a boycott pushing down the share price of a particular company then they’ll put their money into a hedge find that’s betting on that company’s shares going down.

The thing is, I tried to say but didn’t say it very well, you have to get people not to drink Coke, and for most people the economic argument is not going to be very persuasive. I’m getting confused by it myself and I’m a highly intelligent individual, so what of those Coke drinkers not blessed with my great intellect, perhaps because their brains are too full of sugar and caffeine? Wouldn’t it be better to persuade them via the Coke poisoning Indian children argument?

This doesn’t go down well with Max and Stacy. If you say this company is doing bad things, and some other company is also doing bad things then you get into arguments over which is the worst. The reason for boycotting Coke as far as they’re concerned is not because the things it’s doing are any worse than the things other companies are doing, but it’s because the Coca Cola company is the most vulnerable to a boycott. By not drinking Coke you can really hit them hard. The things Exxon are doing are probably worse, but at the moment they’re not vulnerable to a boycott so it would be a waste of time activists campaigning against them.

The trouble is activists don’t tend to think like that, but they’re starting to come round to our way of thinking.

I got the impression KarmaBanque were aiming their ideas more at activists than ordinary people. They run the hedge fund that can make boycotts effective and which will plough its profits back into the activist organizations, but it’s up to the activists to run run the actual boycotts. That’s not their role.

We’re probably doomed environmentally. The next 10 years are going to be crucial, but global warming now has such a momentum behind it that it doesn’t look like we’re going to turn it around, but we can at least try to make things less bad than they might otherwise be.

Why are these corporations acting suicidally then? Max mentioned that the insurance industry now takes global warming seriously, so why are companies like Exxon paying any climate scientists willing to publicly cast doubt on it? They’re living in a state of denial, Max said. They’re just looking three months ahead, thinking if they can just get through the next three months, and then the next three, then they’ll be okay.

We talked about American politics, particularly Barack Obama’s chances of becoming president. They believe America is a deeply racist country, Stacy said that that’s why Americans don’t want universal health care: the whites can’t abide the idea of paying for black people’s health care. But, she said, the US government spends twice as much per person on health care as the UK. That’s because they have to treat people when they’re seriously ill, such as when a diabetic has an attack the hospital has to treat them and if they don’t have health insurance the government picks up the bill. But many diabetics (and there are many of them in America) have attacks because the government won’t pay for their insulin, since that would be socialism. So not giving free health care is actually more expensive than giving free health care.


Coffee Republic, Soho Square, London, UK

Back in London after a couple of weeks in Eastbourne, now staying in Peckham Rye, but probably only for a few more days. I’ve been looking into getting a boat to Cuba, which seems to be possible but not so easy. There was a freighter going there from Lisbon, which took passengers and charged 90 Euros a day, but that’s fallen through, so now I’m looking into cruise ships, which aren’t as expensive as I’d thought they might be, about £500 to £700 for trans-Atlantic.


Calgary, Alberta

The ride across the praries has been slow and tough, mainly due to strong headwinds most days, plus bitterly cold mornings meaning I have tended to start later in the day, not wanting to get out of my sleeping bag while it’s still below freezing outside.