Being Reasonable

A cool Spring day with a noticeable easterly wind and just a sprinkling of a sun-shower out towards White Waltham – not a perfect cycling day but a long way from a bad one. If only my legs agreed.

Alongside most of the roads, there’s the inevitable litter thrown into the ditches and on the verges. It’s ‘just’ the normal depressing trail that humanity leaves, there’s nothing new about it. There’s also nothing reasonable about it.

Litter in a stream

Not in my vocabulary

With Codgertation, I ponder on and I try to be reasonable – the occasional rant aside. Looking at the ‘normal’ litter all around, and reading about the rising tide of rubbish on our beaches, today I found myself trying to be reasonable about being unreasonable.

Littering isn’t the product of a reasonable attitude – toward the environment or your fellow citizens. Wars aren’t reasonable, nor is any other violence for that matter. Corruption – in politics, in the police, anywhere – isn’t reasonable. Our all too prevalent ‘bonus culture’ and the complete myth that you have to pay top money to get top people is manifestly wrong, proven to be wrong, and thus utterly unreasonable. Cults, religions, fad diets, unchecked population growth, demonizing the poor and neglecting the elderly – none of it is reasonable.

The problem is obvious: an unreasonable and unreasoning mind isn’t going to respond positively to reason. That’s akin to two different languages spoken with no understanding on either side, and no interpreter.

Which leaves us with the question: what should a reasonable person do in the face of unreasonable behaviour? Learn a new language – actually be unreasonable? Try and act as an interpreter – understand the unreasonable with a view to explaining the reasonable?

Of course, I’m grappling with nothing new here. Plenty of finer minds than mine have thought long and hard about this and related/similar issues. We’re in ‘it takes a thief to catch a thief’ territory. We’re in ‘Just and Unjust Wars’ territory. But for all that it’s a commonplace topic, it does no harm to remind yourself that your own – supposedly/hopefully -rational, sensible world view is more-or-less incomprehensible babble to many others.

Fleeced

You could admire the snowdrops starting to show through in earnest now and be pleased spring is here.

Snowdrops on a verge

Spring, surely, has sprung

You could dodge the pot-holes (new and old, often very old) and cut the responsible councils some slack because, after all, the weather’s been awful.

Or you could find yourself wondering, yet again, how it is that so much money is wasted on sub-standard road repairs that fail at the first inclement weather – and from there start to ponder ‘the system’.

Forget all the talk of ‘austerity’. The system is massively rich. Huge amounts of money are sloshing around in local and national government, and vast amounts of that money get wasted. It’s wasted on road repairs that are repairs only in name, obviously, but in all sorts of other respects too. The staggering sums being siphoned out of the NHS spring to mind readily – not least because every passing week, it seems, word leaks out about another Tory/Tory donor with their snout in that particular trough. Whatever way they dress is up, it all comes down to public money being drained away from health care and into private hands for ‘consultancy services’ and management and failed IT projects and the private provision of the previously publicly owned and funded.

In short, a very few people are getting rich out of the public purse on the back of providing ever poorer, ever more expensive, ‘services’.

Nothing about that is news. What is interesting, therefore, is why we put up with it.

Today, riding along debris-strewn roads, I concluded because we’re being fleeced under the cover of politics, and the Brits have a) always been generally disinclined to take much interest in politics and b) when they do show an interest, these days find themselves wholly disillusioned with what’s on offer. And so we give up caring. And so we’re fleeced, royally.

I suppose that does leave us with the question of whether the disillusionment has been deliberately engineered. After all, it suits those who are in a position to do that engineering.

Treated With Contempt

This week, the government is saying it’s promoting cycling with a load of extra funding. The figures bandied about vary: £148 million is probably the most commonly cited, at least by the politicians; £77 million is often repeated too.

Let’s leave aside everything else – that it’s a drop in the ocean*; that a lot of it will be spent by incompetent local councils et al to no positive effect; that a lot of it probably won’t ever be spent, as has happened with town centre regeneration funds … and so on. Let’s leave aside all of that.

Let’s just focus on the sums involved. In reality it’s just £52 million of new funding. The rest has already been announced.** That is just a fact.

Another fact is that it’s not at all surprising that it requires other people to do the research to find out the truth about the sums, to find out the reality behind the numbers.

You could say any politician citing £148m or £77m as if it were new money is trying to fool us. You could say they are a liar. You could say they are treating us with contempt, as idiots. And you’d be right.

And that should be what we all take away from this announcement about funding for cycling: that once again our political classes are treating ordinary people with contempt. Anything else we might take away from it is, surely, far less significant.

* The figures in (some sort of ) context.

** How the money breaks down (1)

** How the money breaks down (2)

Money Talking

On America’s Independence Day, yesterday, I found myself reading a New Yorker article about how the billionaire Koch brothers work to ensure their personal wealth and power, based on fossil fuels, isn’t threatened by any action to combat climate change. In a nutshell, they buy politicians and they buy inaction; and they fund disinformation to keep their particular wheels turning.

The New Yorker

It is as ludicrous to tar all Americans with the same brush as it is any other group of people. And after all, the article is written by an American, published in America: there are plenty of Americans outraged by what’s going on.

That said though, from a ‘rest of the world’ point of view, America as a state, as an entity, is the biggest per capita contributor to climate change, but is doing little to change its ways. America is by no means alone in having home-grown, entrenched, powerful people orchestrating opposition to climate change, but as the world’s most powerful nation, if the world were a sensible place, it would be leading the way in reacting to the threats climate change poses.

Cycling today, taking in Goring, Wallingford, Swyncombe and thereabouts, in suddenly very hot weather that no-one was forecasting even just a few days ago, I found myself wondering about any number of different aspects to that Koch-created reality – about how they sleep at night; about how the people they’re buying-off live with themselves; about how to react to it; about how can ‘the nice guys’ fight ‘the nasty guys’ with as much aggression and force as the nasty guys will muster without themselves turning into nasty guys; and so on.

But the thought that stayed with me the longest today was how far America, in practice, has drifted away from any hopeful, noble founding ideals. Whatever many Americans may feel and wish for, the future legacy of America is very unlikely to be positive. And that’s assuming there are people still around to assess it.

Red poppies, a blue sky and white clouds

An English red, white and blue

Never Before

Riding today, it struck me that never before have I seen so many dying bees on the roads. There aren’t hundreds of them, but I’ve noticed several of late and I think that’s a first. Climate change? Disease? I’ve no idea. I know worker bees do die off, but if what I’m noticing is unusual we should all be very worried.

I’ve never noticed young Wrens, newly fledged, before but I did earlier this week, in undergrowth to the side of woods near Mapledurham. And today I saw a female Blackbird busy feeding what I guess will be a second brood; I’ve seen more second-brood-related activity this year than ever before, both in my garden and out and about.

I’ve never noticed so many fallow fields before; today I wondered whether that was because of subsidies for ‘set aside’ land, depressed markets or similar; or whether it was because crops planned for them had failed with the late seasons this year.

Fallow fields

Fallow, or a sign of failed crops?


I don’t think I’ve ever before been quite so conscious of my shorts having settled down as I rode around to being a good half-inch above the permanent ‘farmer’s tan’ mark on my legs: a pallid tide line isn’t a pretty sight – I know that. I can only apologise.

And never before have I contemplated killing government officials but today, as I dodged pot-holes, I found myself wondering whether that’s what I might do – perhaps even ought to do.

Let’s say someone I loved hit a pot-hole while cycling, fell off and died. People will have been responsible for that hole – some single person, some people in a chain of command, some people responsible for employing other people, for setting budgets, for setting the low quality standards that are deemed acceptable these days. My loved one’s death would be the direct fault of people – real, accountability-dodging people. No court would do anything about them. Some public hand-wringing and trite, bogus, hollow ‘our thoughts are with the family’ statements by the representatives of the apparatus that employs those responsible people aside, nothing would change as a result of that death – unless I took personal action.

I’ve no desire to be judge, jury or executioner, none whatsoever, but as I rode around today I wasn’t sure what would be morally right if people in a chain of responsibility killed my loved one; I wasn’t sure whether exercising such an extreme form of retributive justice could be argued to be right in the absence of a legal system willing to act, in the name of both natural justice and – as long as the reason for the killing was explained – in the name of trying to raise standards and thus prevent other unnecessary deaths on the road. I just wasn’t sure.

If the law fails, if the law is wrong, ‘taking the law into your own hands’, surely, can’t always be the wrong course of action. That is a very unsettling thought.

Invest? Pull The Other One

An artist’s impression of the future

An artist’s impression of the future

Another decent-length ride – 30+ miles largely in the territory between Henley and Windsor. It feels good to be riding properly again.

Nearer to Windsor, I ended up riding with a chap – as you do – who said he was out from west London. We chatted for a while – as you do; it turned out he was something I think quite senior in a commercial property company. He was on a very nice Pinarello, as in Campag Super Record equipped Pinarello. All sorts of people cycle.

Talk inevitably turned to pot-holes because there were so many we had to avoid, and that prompted my temporary companion to tell me that in the last few days he’d been ‘doing the whole buttering-up lark’ for some potential investors, what he called ‘high value low profile’ people, from India and China. I gathered that basically involved taking them on jollies and showing them the sights, Windsor, quaint old pubs and all that, as well as the more business-like stuff.

I’m not sure I’d be much good at that sort of work but it’s interesting to hear about it. What was particularly eye-opening, and depressing, and perhaps even chilling, was that he said –

  • after the touring around and what-have-you, the two people he’d been showing around from China had told him outright that they’d decided to not invest in Britain, not least because the infrastructure was so bad. In their view, so he said, if we cannot keep something as basic as our roads properly repaired, that says we are likely to be unable to do anything else well.
  • the person from India had said the same thing as the two from China about the roads, but had added to the equation that the amount of litter to be seen everywhere spoke volumes about how the British don’t even care for themselves and their own country; he thought with that attitude they were probably going to care even less about a foreign employer. And he said he was looking elsewhere instead too.

I said I can see their point of view and Mr Pinarello agreed. I said I didn’t know what anyone could do about it; he said in the Chinese view British politics was too corrupt and self-serving to be able to fix the problems, that he agreed with them and that he was planning to leave the country. He turned off and headed back towards London; I rode home, avoiding the pot-holes, passing fly-tipping and litter, wishing I knew where I could emigrate to.