Cut disc

I have suffered from Sciatica for a year and a bit now. In most cases, Sciatica disappears after a few months. In this case it kept on for 14 months, until yesterday.

I had an operation called a discectomy in which part of the disc pushing onto the nerve was cut back, allowing my Sciatic nerve some breathing space.

I am now sofa-bound. Every time I get up and walk around it feels like my midriff is going to just snap and I’ll end up doubled over, my eyes looking between my feet.

The anaesthetic was amazing. Some clear liquid and an oxygen mask before the white liquid, the main barbiturate solution, pumped in.

‘Do you feel a bit light-headed?’

I nod and the next thing I know I’m waking up in another room. The surgeon tells me something that I think is meant to be important but I have no idea what it is. Why do they have to tell you how it went when you’re out of it? For all I know I could have been left paralysed but missed the memo.

I was given an egg sandwich and a cup of tea. I chilled and listened to the radio. It was a pretty easy recovery, until I got home and the pain meds wore off.

Homage to Ozack Van-Damme

I loved my car. A Renault Clio Tourer Dynamique with a 1.1 engine, though the engine size didn’t stop Renault selling it as a; “sport edition.” Every time I renewed my insurance I had to convince the person on the other end of the phone that it didn’t have spoilers and nitrous but it did have a large boot for shopping and it shook when it hit 71 mph.

When Ozack Van-Damme shuddered to a stop on a busy dual carriageway I had no idea he was going to be a write-off. The recovery guy told me it didn’t look good before he winched it onto the back of his van and drove Ozack and myself to my local garage.

A couple of days later I got the call. He was as dead as dead can be. A piston shot through thrle cylinder and there was nothing I could do without materialising a couple grand. The next day I found myself emptying Ozack of all those things a car holds. Receipts. Emergency kit. Log book. Ice-scraper. No matter how hard I jammed my fingers down into the gap between driver’s chair and handbrake I couldn’t reach that two-pound coin.When it was emptied, I watched it get hauled onto the back of yet another recovery vehicle. Why didn’t it have scrapyard or car funeral service written on the side instead of “recovery vehicle” as if it was going to give Ozack another chance at life?

Ozack took us around Europe, large boot crammed with camping gear and three weeks-worth of clothes for three of us. He had taken us across the flat expanse of the Netherlands, along the no-such-thing-as-a-speed-limit autobahn and up the steep mountain roads of Switzerland.

It is because of Ozack that we accidentally discovered a dogging spot and caught sight of two people going at it in the back of an old faded red Vauxhall something-or-other, pale naked figures illuminated by our headlights as we swung out of the car park. Men and women stood around the Vauxhall looking like rabbits caught in headlights, others refused to look up and instead kept their heads down. I made out furrowed brows as if they were pondering the universe and not whacking off as they watched two strangers going at it. Though we didn’t see any spectator flesh so maybe it was too cold.

My partner and I had spent many a night huddled under duvets in the back of Ozack, the car perched on top of the cliffs of Cornwall. We were rocked to sleep by harsh coastal winds and awoken by morning light draining in through the windows.

It saddens me to think that he is being put through the works at the local breakers yard. But I guess like so many dead bodies he is being plucked of organs so other machines can last that little bit longer.

Living with a (tired) teacher

I was spread out on the living room floor, reading a bulky sci-fi novel when I heard an intake of breath. Not exactly a snore. But kinda like a snore.

My fiance (let’s call her “Tired Teacher”) was sitting cross-legged on the couch. A four-colour bic hanging from her hand and a student’s English book spread on her lap. Her head was on her chest and her eyes were closed. Asleep.

This is common. I reach over and shake her leg. She comes to, head snapping up like she had never stopped marking. She offers an exhausted, embarrassed smile and gets her pen ready.

I get another paragraph in, a boy trapped underwater, his best friend struggling to get to him. The adults are racing to the scene but who knows if they’ll be there in time – another not-quite-but-kinda-like a snore.

Her head is down again. Eyes closed. Pen at the ready.

I shake her awake. Tell her to go to bed. She nods and puts her student’s book into a large bag. The same bag she lugs in and out of the car and somehow hefts to and from school Monday to Friday.

When the book is away she slumps sideways across the couch and is asleep. It’s 12.32 in the morning. She’ll be getting up at six-thirty.

Spectating The Spectator: Trading places

Image source: Pindex

The Spectator’s 10th August, 2019 edition of The Spectator opened up with a piece called Trading places.

The article considers the argument that the UK should look positively on a trade deal with America in place of the trade deal which we already have with the EU.

“The reality is that free trade is almost always on balance a good thing, regardless of which country is it conducted with. That said, there will always be compromises to be made. Vested interests to be tackled. Product standards have to be reviewed…Good trade deals can even destroy native industries – but the overall effect of global trade is to boost the creation of wealth…The important thing is to make the right concessions.”

The U.K already has these concessions with the European Union but with the extra added benefit that, as a democracy, the United Kingdom also has a vote and therefore a voice in the passing of European law. The author of this piece is essentially trying to argue for a position that would make the UK worse off.

“Free trade with the US is opposed by some Remainers for no better reason than because it is advocated by Leavers.”

The author is clearly a hypocrite. What kind of bias does it take to argue that getting away from our closest allies (culturally and by locality) and toward the US would be preferential over the kind of deal we already have? To say that Remainers oppose a deal with America for no other reason than Leavers want it seems exactly what this piece is arguing…only the other way.

‘…the NHS has always outsourced some of its services – which last year accounted for 7 per cent of its budget. There is no reason why US providers should not be allowed to compete for this work on equal terms with British companies.”

That was not the line towed by Leave supporting parties and groups throughout the 2016 referendum and there is also solid reasoning why the US should not be competing on the same terms with British companies: American health care standards are lower than the UK’s. Not only are American health care standards lower, the introduction of more private interests within the NHS goes against public polling which shows that people want private companies kept the at the biggest possible distance from health care system.

The NHS is not the author’s only area of attack. On GM foods:
‘No one can point to ill-effects, and for good reason: GM foods are subject to far more scrutiny than non-GM foods.’

The reason for the GM foods being held to higher scrutiny is because…well…they are genetically modified. A crop created as opposed to one grown is no doubt going to undergo far more scrutiny because it has to pass myriad tests that would decide whether said food was safe for consumption.

The simple truth is that America uses GM crops as it helps mass production which ultimately makes the crop cheaper to make. European food standards are among the highest in the world whilst America have been time and again castigated for packing out their foods with copious amounts of highly addictive and highly fattening corn-syrup.

‘Then there is the practice of washing chicken in chlorine, which has been continuously cited as a reason why we shouldn’t do a trade deal with the US. Even the EU, when it banned chlorine-washed chicken in 1997, came to the conclusion that the practice was perfectly acceptable from a food-standard point of view – but banned it anyway on the flimsy pretext that it might provide farmers with a sense of false security. A better explanation is that it spied the opportunity to snuff out US competition for less efficient European producers.’

The pretext was far from “flimsy”. For instance, the European Commission decided that using chlorine to wash chicken dramatically lowered standards because it allowed farmers to get away with providing poor conditions. As highlighted by Ben Chapman writing for the Independent (Sunday 3 March, 2019) – “Advocates of this approach” (not washing chicken in chlorine) “say that it leads to higher standards of hygiene and animal welfare because farmers must take care at each stage of the process rather than relying on a chemical bath to kill any harmful pathogens after animals are slaughtered.”

The idea that European farms are supposedly “less efficient” is exactly because European standards are higher and do not lower themselves to mass-production quality levels, which results in questionable practices like washing chicken in chlorine. The author also argues that the EU was being protectionist in its endeavours, something which many conservative thinkers is one of the best outcomes of Donald Trump’s America. When the EU tries to put EU farmers and food safety levels first, it is chastised.

What it comes down to is facts. Is chlorine washed chicken okay to eat? Looking back on Ben Chapman’s piece for the Independent, the answer is quite clear.

Are we so loathing of the European Union that we would opt for subservience to the US and lower not only our standards but our global standing?

A new nuclear power struggle

On 8th August, the inhabitants of Moscow were surprised when their televisions flicked from their standard programmes to a blue screen with a single star. It was a weather warning telling the people to find shelter. It then disappeared leaving people wondering just what had happened. At the same time in Severodvinsk, a small town in the North-West not far from the Finnish border was exposed to gamma radiation 3x higher than is permissible for human health after an explosion at the nearby Nyonoksa top-secret testing facility.

The explosion at Nyonoksa facility killed several including nuclear scientists. Russian weather service, Rosgidromet, recorded levels of radiation 16x higher than normal levels within the vicinity of Nyonoksa. In true Cold War style, residents were quick to stockpile iodine, known to stop the Thyroid from absorbing radiation. The explosion killed several including nuclear scientists working on the project.

After more correspondence it was finally let on that the explosion was down to the failure of an “isotope” power source. Russia was testing the infamous Storm Petrel missile at the Nyonoksa site. The Storm Petrel missile – called Skyfall by NATO – was unveiled by Russian president Vladimir Putin at the State of the Union address in 2018 and boasts a propulsion system powered by a miniature nuclear reactor which gives a potential flight time that could be measured in days, weeks or even months.

Having extended range plus cruise-missile capabilities – meaning that it can change direction, move around objects and evade interception – would mean that the missile would be harder to detect and defend against.

Another new and chilling piece of kit that Russia are working on – Poseidon – is an autonomous drone submarine which is programmed to unleash nuclear warheads on key enemy locations on the US west coast should Russia “go dark.”

Due to a series of agreements, Russia and America have not tested nuclear devices for twenty years. However, Russia have breached the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. Donald Trump responded by removing America from the pact. The New Start agreement which ensures Russia and the US have a limit on how many intercontinental nuclear missiles they can produce, runs out in 2021 and may not be renewed, thus giving America and Russia free reign to progress their arsenals and potentially make another power grab.

The US has been stepping up spending in nuclear warfare infrastructure with former President Barack Obama developing a $1.2tn plan to “maintain US air, sea and land-based nuclear weapons.” Donald Trump has gone much further putting an additional $500bn including $17bn for the production of a “low-yield” tactical nuclear weapon, essentially a mini-nuke that can be used on the battlefront.

It is rumoured that some factions within the Pentagon and within the defence contractor sector believe that Russia’s move away from agreements is a step in the right direction.

America’s nuclear defence capabilities are ageing and therefore, like many wars before, this will drive innovation and strengthen America’s standing.

Tensions are rising not only between the US and Russia (who between them hold little over 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenal) but with China, Iran and North Korea all flexing their muscles, we could be looking at the age of a new Cold War with new frontiers.

The point by point scaling up of nuclear armaments is not the only evidence of a new Cold War. Russia and China flexed their muscles during the Brexit and Presidential election campaigns with industrial scale levels of spreading disinformation. Seeing their success during these campaigns, Vladimir Putin is pushing further. At what cost?

Rail fares hit environment

Rail Fares

Rail fares are due to rise by 2.8% as of January, 2019, hitting not only people’s pockets, but the environment as well.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) protested at key locations yesterday in response to the increase in fares which come at a time of slowing inflation. For example:

2017

Rate of inflation: 3.1%
Rail fare increase of 3.3%

2018

Rate of inflation: 2.48%
Rail fare increase of 2.8%

2019

Rate of inflation in 2019: 1.84% (predicted)
Rail fare increase: a 2.8% rail hike due in 2020

The cost of rail travel is the highest in Europe and it is only getting worse. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has stated that the “cost of train travel had increased by twice as much as wages over the past decade.” Since 2009, wages have grown by 23% whereas the overall cost of train travel has gone up by 46%.

The changes will add more than £100 to many annual season tickets.

There are a few worrying trends in this data. The first is that the rate of inflation over the past years has been sluggish due to uncertainty over Brexit. The second is that prices are exceeding the rise of inflation, therefore putting more people either further out of pocket or else unable to use such methods of transport as stated by Bruce Williamson from campaign group Railfuture that travellers “will either find another job or another form of transport.”

The problem is that other modes of transport are fossil-fuel intensive meaning raising many concerns that greener methods of transport are being unfairly overpriced making them unacceptable for many members of the public.

With many annual tickets touching four figure sums, cars and buses might very well become the next alternative and whilst this could result in an increase in car-sharing schemes, the amount of cars that would be put on Britain’s, adding to the already congested road transport network, is incalculable.

Suspicious…

I was left somewhat confused when Sir Kim Darroch stepped down as British Ambassador to the United States. Leaked documents had shown that Darroch had called the President of the United States, Donald Trump, “inept” and “uniquely dysfunctional”. After much pressure from Donald Trump, who retaliated by calling Darroch “the wacky ambassador” and a “very stupid guy,” before claiming that “we will no longer deal with him,” Darroch handed in his resignation letter.

Before Donald Trump’s visit to the U.K earlier this year (in fact whilst in the air on his way to Stansted Airport) Donald Trump took to Twitter to openly accost Mayor of London Sadiq Khan calling him a “stone cold loser.” This is alongside comments made regarding Theresa May regarding the Brexit strategy in which he all but trounces her for not listening to his advice on how to proceed regarding withdrawing from the European Union.

So why is it that a diplomat speaking in confidence is bullied to step down when a president can openly proffer trash-talk and see absolutely no retaliation?

Writing for the ‘i’ (09/07/2019), Kim Sengupta raises a very important issue regarding the backlash faced by ambassadors whose primary role is to comment honestly and freely regarding issues within the respective countries in which they are placed:
“The real risk of the UK being ill-served will come from an ambassador who fails to send a transparent, candid account of what is happening in Washington because of ideological reasons, such as adherence, for example, to the jihad of hardline, doctrinaire Brexit.”

Ambassadors are required to give honest accounts of their host countries. Are we prepared to believe that ambassadors within the UK are not reporting back to the superiors commenting on the shambles of Brexit or the ineptitude of the current government?

Perhaps the most controversial part of this story is that of the leak itself. It has been reported that two years-worth of emails had been stolen, stored and eventually leaked meaning that the information gathering had been taking place since roughly the time that Donald Trump became president. This is not an act of whistle-blowing (since it has already been ascertained that Kim Darroch was simply doing his duty) but is instead an act of political sabotage.

This became much more plausible when Brexiters called for a more Brexit-minded individual to take up the ambassador role. Nigel Farage used his LBC segment to call out Kim Darroch and push for someone else to take up the position. This is all the more severe when assessed alongside the recent finding that the leak of Kim Darroch’s emails were from Isabel Oakeshott, Brexit Party MEP Richard Tice’s partner.

Could we in fact be witnessing a political coup?