Here’s what you should think about the war today

The media is increasingly giving up all pretence at reportage in relation to the conflict in Ukraine. So immersed in propaganda are we now, that the media are now offering us cathartic dreams to resolve the anxieties they themselves fostered and promoted.

Let’s take a quick example from today’s Daily Express. Here is the headline:

Let’s ignore for the moment the lack of grammatical punctuation and acknowledge that at least the key data is presented in scare quote marks, indicating that this is opinion of some kind and not factual assertion. That doesn’t always happen, so kudos for remembering to do that.

So, whose opinion is this? “Former British officer”, Dr Mike Martin of Kings College London, is who. Dr Martin is a visiting scholar at KCL, which means that he borrows their name in order to publish academically. In return, he provides some PhD supervision for students. This is a perfectly legitimate thing to do, and I’ve done it myself incidentally.

He appears from his KCL profile to be very interested in an evolutionary psychological approach to understanding warfare. It’s a little difficult to gauge his quality as an academic from a paperchase, as he’s not published a lot academically. By far his most impactful work was an oral history of Helmand Province in Afghanistan, where he appears to have done his own tours of duty as a soldier. Some of the other things listed on his Google Scholar page, such as articles on leaf-cutter ants, may not be his at all.

So then I looked at his own website, which seems primarily aimed to promote himself as a public speaker and commentator to the media. There we can see that he’s written two other books as well, one on his interest in evo-psych and war, and the other on an adventure he had crossing the Congo river in a landrover.

A lot of his work looks back to, or builds upon his experience as the British Army’s first ‘cultural understanding officer’ in Helmand. There’s a Sunday Times article about that here. I’m not going to dwell on how poorly the British Army’s cultural understanding went in Helmand.

Nor will I dwell on the many narratives of British and American success in Afghanistan that the media published adoringly. Nor will I dwell on how the minute Western military forces, exhausted by conflict, decided to pull out of Afghanistan, it reverted immediately to the Taliban once more.

I will solely point out that the conflict was a huge waste of resources and lives, and had also been the subject of an enormous and persistently reported lie in the media in the West.

Let’s return to Dr Mike Martin. He is a former British Army reserve officer who, after leaving the army, embarked on an academic career. He’s formulated a theory about war’s evolutionary origins and now researches that at KCL. Good for him. It’s an intriguing question, how hardwired the lust for war is.

What he’s not, is any kind of expert on Russia, Russian history, or Ukrainian history; nor has he any expertise about the Kremlin or Russian politics; nor on Russian military forces, on Ukrainian military capacity, or any on the ground knowledge of the current combat theatre.

So what is this story, this headline? Dr Martin likes to see his name in the media, and it helps promote his own work, so he appears more than happy to speak to the press about issues like this where he has no apparent expert knowledge whatsoever. His opinion, based on zero knowledge and expertise, is then inflated by judicious reference to his academic credentials and military background by the newspaper.

From there, it gets promoted to headline, and suddenly a readership fed on months of existential fear of Putin has hope. The hope of his overthrow. This is wishful thinking, it seems to me. After all, Putin’s popularity has actually risen in Russia since the invasion.

Why then is the Express printing this? Because it’s the narrative they want to promote. It’s the narrative they want their readers to experience. It builds on the existing narrative that they and the rest of the media have been assiduously creating since the start of the conflict.

How does it build on it? Well, having created a monstrous, satanic image of Putin, it is now essential to offer their readership some catharsis – specifically that he can and will be defeated in some kind of moral justice. We’ve seen other iterations of this in the Western media recently, mostly speculating about his health and possible imminent demise.

In reality, there’s nothing there. This is the opinion of one guy who has zero expertise in any relevant topic, inflated into a headline by a newspaper which is cheerleading this war endlessly. I don’t mean to pick on this particular paper, or this particular talking head. I understand their various reasons for doing this. I could have chosen so many others.

This example is merely symptomatic of the sick and sickening media environment we now find ourselves in, one entirely divorced from reality and endlessly blaring in favour of war.

As Orwell once wrote, There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.” Too much of our media would drive anyone mad, and indeed already appears to have driven much of the population mad.

The Whales are Returning to Kiev

For Ireland’s national poetry day, here’s a poem from a couple of years back with a Ukraine theme. It was from that moment in lockdown when everyone was cooing about nature returning. The first three or so stanzas – all of those things did actually happen.

It imagines not only a world without Ukraine but a world without us. And that’s where we’re headed if we can’t find a way to get past war. Not just this one, but all war.

On that cheery note, as promised here are some whales overhead, courtesy of Kiev’s Maxim Garifullin:

The Whales Are Returning to Kiev

The wolves returned to Pripyat

Once all the people had fled.

Now sheep stroll the streets in Atakum

And goats gambol through Llandudno.

Kangaroos colonise Adelaide,

And deer graze on the lawns of East London.

Fish and dolphins have fled back to Venice,

Peacocks strut proudly through New Delhi,

A puma prowled around Santiago,

And alligators crawl inside shopping malls.

Wild boar root for food in Ajaccio,

Monkeys fight on the road in Lompuri,

The coyotes now run San Francisco,

And a sealion was spotted in Buenos Aires.

The whales are returning to Kiev.

Herds of unicorn gallop through Paris.

Angels can be seen on the streets of Berlin.

And none of them miss us at all.

Whatever happened to Michael Aspel?

Yes, I wrote a poem about Michael Aspel. No, I couldn’t tell you why if I tried. It just came to me.

I also didn’t mean for this to come out as sarky as it did. I never met the guy and he always seemed like a decent spud on the TV. It’s just that everything he did seems such a long time ago now. Probably he feels that more than I do.

Anyhow, it wasn’t personal. As a friend said to me, I could just as easily have used Wogan.


Is this how it is, Mr Give us a Clue?

If we manage to make it to eighty-nine,

mostly forgotten, most of the time?

Guest starring on ‘Morecambe and Wise’,

digging drains, selling beds, sent away in the war,

doing a year in the King’s Rifle Corps,

having seven kids, and three or four wives –

you thrived when people still lived many lives.

But all that you did now reeks of before,

a lost age from back in the days of yore,

nights of Miss World and the Eurovision,

all that national bonding on television

when television was still the glue

that united us while you read the news.

Those dusty archives of video,

Crackerjack, Antiques Roadshow,

you sat on sofas, legs akimbo,

chatting to the starlets of the past,

forgotten now, youth gone so fast,

will we all be so outcast?

Is that how it is, Mr Give us a Clue?

If we manage to make it to eighty-nine,

mostly forgotten, most of the time?

If we do, will we be like you?

The déjà vu election and its ramifications for France

In France, Emmanuel Macron has been re-elected. A nearly 15% swing was not in the end enough to bring Marine Le Pen to power.

In 2017, when the same two candidates faced off, the result was 66.1% to 33.9%. The preliminary results this time make it 58.5% to 41.5%. Macron’s vote is down around 2 million on last time and Le Pen’s up 2.5 million. This marks a slight swing towards Macron in the second round, as opinion polling had the two candidates on around 57.6% to 42.4% just after the first round.

Macron-Le Pen affilano le armi in vista del duello tv - Mondo - ANSA
The presidential election, same as the last one.

If we want to consider the trend here, in 2002, when her father Jean-Marie made it to the second round of voting, he received a mere 5.5 million votes, 17.8% of the turnout.

It’s the lowest turnout since 1969, indicating what some call voter apathy but is more probably a distaste for both candidates, especially among the nearly 8 million people who supported the far left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round.

Macron cannot serve three consecutive terms, and his party came into being in part to find a centrist candidate who could defeat Le Pen in 2017. The traditional parties of left and right were decimated at this election, with the Republican candidate coming behind even Zemmour, and the Socialist candidate barely scraping into the top ten.

The one-time heir apparent to Marine, her niece Marion Marechal, left politics in 2017 after a series of disputes with her aunt. Since then she has worked in education, but recently she offered her support to the even more far right candidate Eric Zemmour, who obtained 7% of the vote in the first round of the presidential election.

Macron’s victory tonight therefore belies a further ratcheting of the hypernationalist vote in France, and forebodes some degree of future uncertainty. The election in 2027 is already likely to be extremely interesting. The challenge for the traditional parties is almost existential at this point, but one presumes with their funds and electoral machines they will bounce back. The question is how far how quickly.

En Marche must now find and promote an heir to Macron in a similar timeframe. And the National Rally will have to decide whether two-time loser Marine Le Pen should be backed again, or whether her niece can be lured back into the fold.

Your next football champions are probably already decided

Tonight Bayern Munich just won their tenth Bundesliga title in a row. In France, meanwhile, PSG have just won their eighth title in the past ten years. (All data correct as of 23/4/22.)

In Spain, the nation’s most successful club Real Madrid require a mere point from their final five games to secure the La Liga title. In fairness, city rivals Atletico are the current champions, and Barcelona have also won in recent years, though thanks to their financial misdealings they look quite a bit off the pace for the next year or two at least.

Robert Lewandowski listens to the predictable acclaim.

In Italy’s Serie A, there is at least some end of season interest. Internazionale won it last season, preventing Juventus from winning a tenth title in a row. We have to go back to 2001 to find a team which isn’t Juve or one of the two Milan teams as Scudetto winner, Fabio Capello’s Roma with ‘Batigol’ Batistuta up front. As I write this, it’s between the two Milan teams again, with Juve probably out of it. There’s a slight chance that Napoli could sneak through for the first time since Maradona played for them in the 1980s, but it’s unlikely.

In England, Manchester City lie slightly ahead of Liverpool FC currently. No one else can catch them, which is reasonable, as on current form these are probably the two best club teams on the planet. City won three of the last four titles, with the other going to Liverpool.

Prior to that was the absolutely unlikely scenario of Leicester City, who were 5,000/1 longshots with the bookies at the start of the season, picking up their sole title. England has moved on somewhat from the previous two decades which saw a Manchester United/Chelsea duopoly displacing a previous United/Arsenal duopoly. Nevertheless, Leicester notwithstanding, it’s already pretty obvious which two or three teams next year’s winner will come from.

So that’s the ‘big five’ leagues. Let’s look a bit further afield.

In Austria, Red Bull Salzburg are miles in front. Should they win, it will be their ninth title in a row. It will also be their thirteenth title in sixteen years. This, in a league previously dominated by two Vienna teams.

In Portugal, where the same three teams have pretty much always won the league, sure enough Porto are nine points clear of Sporting Lisbon, who are in turn five points clear of city rivals Benfica. Sporting won it last year, the first time in about two decades. It’s recently been passed back and forth between Benfica and Porto. The last time one of these three didn’t win it was Boavista in 2001. Before that, we have to go back to Lisbon’s third team, Belenenses, in 1946.

Portugal’s tripartite dominance is reminiscent of Holland, where Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV tend to share the honours. Ajax are currently miles in front and highly likely to pick up their third title in a row this season, not including one season abandoned to Covid.

Scotland’s duopoly, the Old Firm continue to dominate of course. Celtic FC are leading this year from city rivals Rangers, who prevented Celtic from doing a ten in a row last year. The last time one of those two didn’t win was 1984, when Aberdeen won under a young manager called Alex Ferguson.

In Greece, Olympiacos look safe for a third title in a row. They relinquished the previous two, but prior to that, they won seven in a row.

We need to look to the smaller nations for signs of change. In Norway, where Rosenborg have dominated for decades, latterly both Molde and Bodo/Glimt have come through. As a summer league, they’ve only just kicked off for the season, so it remains to be seen if Rosenborg can continue to be sidelined.

In Poland, there’s looking like a potential shock with a the title now down to a probable three horse race between Rakow, Lech Poznan, and Pogon Szczecin. Legia Warsaw, winners of seven of the last nine titles, are weirdly mid-table this time.

Not all smaller nations are competitive however. In Bulgaria, Ludogorets look odds on to win their eleventh title in a row this season. Former dominant team, CSKA Sofia habitually come second now. What happened in Bulgaria? A pharmaceuticals multi-millionaire bought Ludogorets is what happened. The same thing that has happened everywhere else.

We’re really not in a position anymore to deny the impact of cold hard cash on soccer success. It clearly correlates far too closely. And by too closely, I mean to the extent that so many titles are becoming foregone conclusions, or at best a race between two or three clubs only, even from the start of the season.

Football’s Financial Fair Play system to level playing fields somewhat has proven a total joke, all over Europe, in other words. We have soccer clubs now owned by sovereign funds of various nations of dubious standing in order to ‘sportswash’ their national images. In turn, they manage to distort and dominate entire leagues. In smaller nations, this process is achieved by individual millionaires investing funds in a club in order to purchase success.

FFP hasn’t worked in other words. It only works where it doesn’t apply, such as Ireland, where no sugar daddies have funded any teams. As a result, Ireland remains genuinely an open race for the title. Perhaps Poland might continue to be also.

Would that more fans in more countries got to experience that excitement rather than simply resigning themselves to dreaming of European qualification, or some other replacement dream. Why did we let billionaires and sovereign funds buy our sporting dreams from us?

What if the drugs don’t work?

A young man has stabbed his grandmother to death in England and now faces trial. The trial is to decide whether he committed murder or manslaughter. That he killed her is not in doubt.

According to the Daily Mail, the man’s ‘addiction’ to cannabis – a usage quoted at a mere two joints daily – may be to blame. This is the grounds of his defence case, incidentally.

Buried in the article are further details that the man was also taking prescription medications – specifically Elvanse for Attention Deficit Disorder and Xanax for depression. It is reported that his mood had changed significantly in the months prior to the killing, and that his family had grown concerned about his taking both cannabis and these prescribed medicines.

Clonazepam vs. Xanax: Differences, dosage, and side effects

I don’t wish to prejudice this particular case so instead I will speak generically. Elvanse is an amphetamine stimulant. Xanax is a Benzodiazepine sedative. Anyone taking both is having their moods artificially heightened and lowered simultaneously.

Both medications have a range of significant side-effects, including hallucinations, mood swings and aggressive behaviour (Elvanse) and depression, agoraphobia, social phobia and loss of libido (Xanax).

Yes, you read that correctly. One of the side effects of a medication commonly prescribed for depression actually causes further depression. Furthermore, both drugs can cause dependence. That is, it is possible to become addicted to them. By contrast, there is no evidence that it is possible to become physiologically addicted to cannabis, though psychological dependence is widely reported.

In the 1970s, heavy sedatives like Mogadon were commonly prescribed to housewives who experienced depression or anxiety. For many of these women, this was a sentence to decades of zombification, their moods and personalities entirely suppressed under a cosh of sedation.

We now recognise that in many instances, what they were actually suffering from was social isolation, attempting to raise small children alone in dormitory suburbs without sufficient social connections and supports.

I wonder whether there might be similar societally caused reasons underpinning the vast upswing in depression, anxiety disorders and issues like ADHD among the younger generations today?

It may well be that such medications are helpful in some instances. But in many cases, people are prescribed via a ‘throwing darts at the wall’ method, where they are placed on one regimen for six months, and then if it doesn’t work, the dosage is varied or a slightly different medication offered in replacement.

As a result, they can go years without seeing their symptoms alleviate, especially as the periods of tailoring up and down on these drugs can be especially disconcerting and debilitating. Furthermore, as in the instance of the two medications mentioned, dependency issues can develop.

In such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that some young people attempt to self-medicate, especially with widely available recreational substances like cannabis. And obviously cannabis is not a good idea for a still-developing young mind, especially since it appears to catalyse the likelihood of schizophrenia and like conditions among those with genetic predispositions.

Furthermore, the THC content of cannabis has been rising for decades. The ditchweed smoked at Woodstock bears almost no resemblance to the high-octane skunk now sold in California, Amsterdam and elsewhere. When the UK newspaper the Independent reported on the dangers of skunk in 2008, reported THC content was up to 14% Nowadays, it can be as high as 25%

I have no easy answers here, but I am beginning to wonder whether future decades will look back on this era and the widespread prescription of amphetamines and barbiturates to young people, including children, with similar horror as we now look back on the decades of mothers lost in a haze of ‘mommy’s little helpers’.

Infinite Growth on a Finite Planet

Nice image from ‘Our World in Data’ here:

The last two thousand years or so (CE) make up only c. 1% of human history, but around half of all people ever have lived during that period, and one in 12 or 13 of all people ever are currently alive today.

For the record, just before humans began to farm and settle in urban environments, around 9,000 years ago, there were only around 20 million people on the entire planet. That’s the population of Cairo today.

At the time of Christ, 2,000 years ago, there was between 90 and 200 million humans on Earth. In other words, between the population of today’s Congo and today’s Nigeria.

China’s population today is around 1.48 billion. That was the population of the entire planet around 1875 CE.

When I was born, there were fewer than half the number of people alive today. Welcome to infinite growth on a finite planet. We’re getting to the point where the consequences are becoming inescapable.

Elon, what planet are you on?

Elon Musk, who I must remind you is the richest man on the planet, could afford to buy a top-notch £300k family home every day for the next two millennia.

However, he chooses not to do so. Which in one sense is wise. Who needs so many houses anyway? Other than maybe Elton John? But Elon doesn’t even have ONE house, which you have to admit is somewhat unusual for the billionaire class.

Elon Musk vuole comprare il 100% di Twitter, il cda rifiuta: Offerta  indesiderata
Can I crash on your couch tonight, man?

Apparently he couch surfs rather than purchase a home in the Bay area, where Tesla is based. He claims to rent a prefab from his own SpaceX firm in Texas, which I am entirely prepared to believe, because he’s definitely eccentric.

What’s less cute and more delusional however, is his insistence that “almost anyone” could afford his $100k flights into space. This is most definitely not the case. Allow me to crunch some numbers for you.

In 2012, a decade ago, the global average income was a mere $18,000 per person annually. That’s before tax, where applicable. By the end of last year, 2021, this figure had FALLEN to $12,609 per capita per annum. That’s eight solid years of ALL OF YOUR MONEY to pay for Elon’s space jaunt. If you’re average. By definition, half of the planet is below that. Additionally, a lot of people don’t earn – kids, the elderly, the sick and so on. They rely on others.

Since earning $58,000 currently would put you in the top one per cent of incomes on Earth, and since financial advisors recommend spending no more than 10% on discretionary expenditure, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Elon is talking a billionaire-sized amount of bollocks.

Even for the top 1% of earners, who should not be spending more than $5,800 annually on discretionary purchases like trips to space, that’s nearly TWO DECADES of saving.

It’s also worth adding that, if you DO happen to be fortunate enough to earn $58k, or the UK equivalent which is £44,400 at today’s exchange rate, you’d only be able to borrow about £144,300, so you’d need one helluva deposit to afford even the average UK house, which was priced at £274,000 in January 2022.

In other words, like I’ve been saying since the days of Occupy, it’s not actually the 1% who are the problem. Believe it or not, the 1% are actually now middle class too. It’s the 0.1% who are the problem. In fact, we could probably go further again.

Just over two dozen people owned half of all the world’s wealth in 2019. They’re the problem. Or to put it another way, Elon: you’re the problem.

I’d be quite gratified if Mr “I don’t own a home!” quietened down a tad about how allegedly cheap his space tours are and instead started buying some other people some houses, even if he doesn’t fancy one for himself.

We don’t all have billionaire pals who let us crash on their couches, after all.

If you knocked on my door now

From time to time, I (mis)translate poems from languages which I don’t speak, or at least, which I don’t speak well. I don’t claim that there’s any great artistic merit in this, but I enjoy doing it and there is some degree of effort, I promise. Anyhow, here’s the latest one.

Patrizia Cavalli is an Italian poet whose selected poems translates approximately as My Poems Won’t Change the World. I suspect neither will this (mis)translation. Nevertheless, her modesty is less appropriate than mine. Her poems are excellent and should be read by everyone.

Homo Sapiens is still evolving

Specifically, Europeans are still evolving, according to this recently published study by geneticists from Shanghai.

The Rise of Homo inferioris | The Genetic Link
Not all evolution is positive, of course.

So, what did they find? A whole bunch of stuff. They tested for 870 human traits in total, categorised in terms of the physical, the medical, the neurological, the behavioural and so on.

They cross-referenced their findings from contemporary European genomes against historical genomes of homo sapiens, including those from pre-neolithic hunter gatherers, early neolithic hunter gatherers, and near eastern farmers from the dawn of civilisation.

The study is dense, and it certainly helps if you are a trained geneticist, or at the very least a medical student, to read it. I am neither, but I was formerly a health correspondent, so I was able to pick out a few interesting discoveries.

Firstly, as might have been expected from the varieties of human skin tone among Europeans, this was one of the factors most prone to genetic selection over recent human history. Effectively, those in the south of Europe selected for ability to tan, while those at northerly climes selected for fairer skin. This was largely already understood to have happened.

Similarly, there is a positive selection for height. Gals have liked a tall guy throughout history, apparently. And there is also positive selection for blond and lighter hair colours, which again we could have deduced from the fact that these hair colours primarily exist among European populations.

Likewise already suspected, but perhaps less widely known, is the fact that Europeans positively selected for a predisposition to schizophrenia. It’s not clear why this is, given that schizophrenia is a debilitating mental illness. Nevertheless, the research indicates some positive selection for it, as well as, oddly enough, a predisposition towards anorexia.

Perhaps not so suspected are minor but yet statistically significant positive selections for a range of things, including raw vegetable intake and heavy alcohol drinking. Then again, Europe has a growing vegetarian and vegan population, and also tends to top the charts for excessive alcohol consumption worldwide.

The most significant evolved traits in recent history relate primarily to facial characteristics – not only hair colour but also things like nose shape and upper lip size. If this makes our ancestors seem somewhat superficial, more concerned with physical appearance than other traits, that may simply be because they are easier to immediately identify.

But much less easy to identify traits also show significant positive selection in recent times. Intelligence and insomnia have both been positively selected for in Europe in recent human history (by which I mean the past few thousand years). This makes sense of course, since it helps to be smart, and someone who stays awake at night is the first to notice nighttime dangers, but more generally this actually indicates that evolved traits go much deeper than the skin.

There’s a lot more in this study, and no doubt it will prove extremely interesting to other researchers. It certainly raises some questions, not only about the traits we have inherited from the neolithic period or our early farming history, but about the traits which seem to be subject to positive selection up to the present day.

One suspects these results can likely be extrapolated to other global populations by replicating the extensive work that went into this study. Or rather, perhaps not these exact results, but rather similar sets of results, indicating similar ongoing evolution in slightly different ways among different global populations.

It would be nice therefore to see similar studies for other global populations, in order to understand the extent to which, for example, the positive selections for schizophrenia and anorexia predisposition are universal or to what extent they’re merely European.

But the bottom line is this: we sometimes assume that recent history is not enough time for humans to have evolved much more than some few superficial variations, like skin tone. However, as this study shows, such evolved variegation is much more than skin deep, and reaches into our very behaviour and psyches.