Johnson’s erratic relationship with the truth

Johnson’s erratic relationship with the truth

Boris is gone, well, almost. 

The UK will soon see the back of their lying toerag of a prime minister who effortlessly broke the ‘economical with the truth’ adage attributed to Edmund Burke, who wrote in 1795 

Falsehood and delusion are allowed in no case whatever: But, as in the exercise of all the virtues, there is an œconomy of truth. It is a sort of temperance, by which a man speaks truth with measure that he may speak it the longer.

Johnson is just a liar.

The odd thing is that everyone knew his pathology because it followed him throughout his public life. He didn’t try to hide it. Indeed his was more Trumpesque doubling down tactics whenever questioned. 

And for way too long, it worked. 

A few more torrid weeks from now and the only prime minister known to have broken the law whilst in office might be gone; for a while. Recall that there have been many political comebacks, and there is always the truth about bad smells.

What I find curious, having already talked about the lessons for democracy and the vacuum of leadership in general among modern-day politicians, is how such an unsavoury character like Boris Johnson happened—not the excruciating going but the coming.  

I know there are commentators with an excellent grasp of political economy and public sentiment that will describe the proximate causes, most likely to do with an electorate who were up their epiglottis in the Brexit stalemate and just wanted it done. But what was it ultimately? Did the UK people pay such little attention that they went to the voting day booth and forgot the top job candidate was only in it for himself?

Australians managed to come to their senses. We realised, perhaps just in time, that the muppets were not there for our best interests, and enough of us voted for the alternative, especially the predominantly women independents. It has only been a short time, but the new government is getting on with it, especially the repairs to our international reputation.

Back in Blighty, commentary has already switched to who the UK will get next. A series of whittling down votes by the MPs followed by a vote on the last two standing by conservative party members, roughly 200,000 people or 0.29% of the electorate, will determine who will receive the hospital pass from Boris who is still holding the ball and knocking over schoolkids.

The candidate list is long, and all of them are tainted by association.

Each one should start their campaigns by telling the truth. The last thing anyone wants is more of the same. 


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Noble savages

Noble savages

I was born in south London, Croydon to be precise, and lived in the UK until I was 26 years old. Today I am an Australian citizen, and in a few months, I will have lived in Sydney for 26 years.  

A lot has happened since I left to seek fame and fortune in far-flung lands, or was it to escape from the religion of my upbringing. You will need to read Paul Sorol to find the answers to that intergenerational conundrum. 

I lament what has become of my homeland as I watch its descent into parody from afar, and I worry for the future of its people. 

The latest escapades in the Boris saga make my previous sarcasm over political buffoonery sound tame. He is a disgrace but not half as his sycophants. Failure to endorse a no-confidence vote in an incoherent, toerag who lies to everyone is extreme cowardice. The shame will eat their souls in the end.

It is hard to imagine anything worse than fooling people into Brexit and partying during a lockdown to break the law of the land you just imposed, but it is coming—a food crisis.

Briefly, the UK does not grow enough food to feed everyone. There is a roughly 50% shortfall. The arrogant assumption of the muppets is that food can be purchased and imported as needed. Wake up. In the coming food shortage, families get fed first, not foreigners in a country with the worst economic outlook in the OECD. Why do you think China is shoring up its supplies?

I highly recommend reading the excellent book Feeding Britain by Tim Lang for a thorough explanation of the dire situation the UK is in, together with a logical and achievable list of solutions. Boris and his cronies have no excuse. Wise advisors have already told them the extent of the problem and how to fix it.

Food security has become my “outfit of the day” as I gather together my career in ecology into some pre-mortem eulogy. 

In thinking about how much food is grown, what society does to share that production around (or not), and the precarious prospects for global supply chains, I imagined that our cultural maturity would hold us in good stead. Well-educated, intelligent, technologically gifted people in democratic societies would be able to anticipate the challenges and figure out solutions, even if it took a global crisis to trigger deployment.

Then I came across this quote from Canadian historian and author Ronald Wright

When Cortés landed in Mexico he found roads, canals, cities, palaces, schools, law courts, markets, irrigation works, kings, priests, temples, peasants, artisans, armies, astronomers, merchants, sports, theatre, art, music, and books. High civilization, differing in detail but alike in essentials, had evolved independently on both sides of the earth.”

Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress (2004, pp 50-51)

I had no idea. 

My schoolboy knowledge of the Aztecs did not cover such sophistication. I was blinkered by education in a country famous for its colonialism. The truth of expansionism is brutal; just ask the Ukranians.

What shocked me the most was the gaping hole it shot in my assumption about mature, gifted people being able to solve problems. Tragically the Aztecs couldn’t deal with the disruption heralded by Hernando Cortez in 1519, even with their high civilisation.

Maybe our modern version of civilisation will not be enough either because there is no invisible guiding hand on the tiller.

But it is ok; a few dipshit politicians still have a job.


Check out sustainably FED for over 120 posts with comments and suggestions to get everyone through the food, ecology and diet challenge.


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Rapid change has happened before

Rapid change has happened before

Alloporus is always on about the happenings of WW2

The loss and the horror are a stain on history that is painful to recall but stare past the nightmares of the war and remarkable things happened during the years of conflict. Here are a few of them.

The US government increased spending by an order of magnitude between 1940 and 1945 and spent more money (in current dollar terms) between 1942 and 1945 than it had in the 152 years prior to 1941. 

The US was in the war for three years and during that time manufactured 87,000 naval vessels, including 27 aircraft carriers, 300,000 planes, 100,000 tanks and armoured cars and 44 billion rounds of ammunition. 

US soldiers on battle tanks. Photo by Suzy Brooks on Unsplash

Whole towns and cities were turned into munitions factories all while many of the young men were serving in Europe and the Pacific. Women took on blue-collar jobs so there were workers to run the machines.

At the same time, the manufacture of cars was banned as was the construction of new homes. There was rationing of food, tyres and gasoline because it was considered fairer than taxing scarce goods. And to save fuel a national speed limit of 35mph was imposed.

Remember this is the US where libertarians rule and U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy was about to unleash the Second Red Scare, lasting from the late 1940s through the 1950s. McCarthyism was characterized by heightened political repression and persecution of left-wing individuals, and a campaign spreading fear of alleged communist and socialist influence on American institutions and of espionage by Soviet agents.

Even in a society leery of socialism, the war produced an extraordinary collective effort in the US and an acceptance of government regulation. It was a similar story in the UK and even in the occupied countries, people resisted for the greater good.

If such collective will against the axis powers could bring such change and effort why not now when we need it again?

Here is what George Monbiot suggests 

Public hostility and indifference create a lack of political will.

Indeed, don’t look up.

I agree but would add another break on drastic responses — the ineptitude of our politicians.

Most of those in the big dog posts are there because they have a single skill, political surfing. They ride the political waves into positions of authority. Very few get there on intellectual merit, leadership skills or foresight.

It is not always their fault.

Our collective failure to recall history and use it to see the future means we have no sense of urgency. Indifference means we don’t ask for leaders with flair, vision or skills. We accept muppets

But the decisions needed now are as era-defining as those made by the US in the 1940s that won a war and set the country on a steeper industrial path.

We need that decisive force not just to deal with imperialist aggression but to feed everyone well.

More on the issues of global food, ecology and diet on sustainably FED


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A few quotes tell the story

A few quotes tell the story

This sequence of quotes I plucked at random from my superficial reading of U.S. political commentary early in 2022 before Putin chose to further destabilise the world. 

Then I put them in a chilling order.

“Only free and fair elections in which the loser abides by the result stand between each of us and life at the mercy of a despotic regime” 

Laurence Tribe, Harvard law professor

“One thing Democrats and Republicans share is the belief that, to save the country, the other side must not be allowed to win … Every election is an existential crisis,”

Jedediah Britton-Purdy, Columbia law professor

“If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, then it’s going to lead to one place and that’s bloodshed.”

Congressman Madison Cawthorn, Republican, North Carolina

“The groups that tend to start civil wars are the groups that were once dominant politically but are in decline. They’ve either lost political power or they’re losing political power and they truly believe that the country is theirs by right and they are justified in using force to regain control because the system no longer works for them.”

Barbara Walter, political scientist, University of California, San Diego

“It would not be like the first civil war, with armies manoeuvring on the battlefield. I think it would very much be a free-for-all, neighbour on neighbour, based on beliefs and skin colours and religion. And it would be horrific.”

Col Peter Mansoor, military history professor, Iraq war veteran

“I speak to you as a human being, a woman whose dreams of motherhood now taste bittersweet because of what I know about our children’s future”

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat, New York

Worried about the future, what will happen to our food, environment, and safety? Get some accurate information and ideas at sustainability FED.


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An experience most painful

An experience most painful

Sir Winston Churchill was a man of his time. 

He was a British statesman and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the Second World War, a Sandhurst-educated soldier, a Nobel Prize-winning writer and historian, a prolific painter, and one of the longest-serving politicians in British history.

Remembered as the leader the British people needed to repel the spread of nazi fascism, he was at the same time a social reformer, an economic liberal and an imperialist. 

Such a combination may seem odd today but understandable given the late Victorian and Edwardian eras that he grew up in.

Churchill was a canny politician, being an MP for over 60 years, and he knew a thing or two about people and words. 

Here is one quote from his 1948 book The Gathering Storm, the first of his twelve-volume memoir on the Second World War

Most painful.

This is a man convinced that rearmament was essential because the war was inevitable. The House was still hoping for peace because another war so soon after the horrors of WW1 was unthinkable.

How many truth-tellers have the experience most painful?

We can count on many frontline staff and public health experts, from epidemiologists to hospital administrators, feeling that pain right now.

The environmentalists have been suffering for decades.

Now the young are feeling the pain too. Truth-telling over climate and the environment has fallen on their bold shoulders.

Reading Churchill is sobering. Knowing that the House has always been hard of hearing may make it easier to take modern ostrich behaviour from our leaders. Leaders rarely heed warnings.

Although Sir Winston felt despair, he led with irrepressible fortitude through the darkest time in British history, forcing people to listen.

It is time to channel that tenacity again.


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What happens in a leadership vacuum?

What happens in a leadership vacuum?

We are all finding out what happens in a leadership vacuum right now. Most everywhere there is a lack of leadership in politics, a lack of leadership in society, and, where I come from at least, a lack of leadership in the public service.

What happens in this vacuum?

Fear, trepidation and ultimately chaos.

Here are some examples of why we are in the grip of this awful trio

Would you like a burger? 

Back in the day, this was a simple enough question. Answer yes and a grilled beef pattie inside a sweet bun with some lettuce, tomato and pickle would arrive in greaseproof paper. 

Only now everyone’s opinion on burgers must be heard.

I expect a veggie burger others will say I’m sorry I don’t like beef burgers but I do like a chicken burger. Others will want chilli sauce with that, another will say please hold the pickles. After much debate and discussion, it will be clear that there’s no standard burger that would satisfy everybody. 

OK, some more inclusivity but the question then becomes who chooses what the priority for the burger should be? In the absence of any leadership, there is no one to make a call and all opinions cut have equal priority. This creates a product challenge for the burger outlet.

When everyone has an opinion it’s hard to prioritise. A democratic consensus is an ideal solution but not one that can be used for most operational matters even at the government level. For example, should we buy submarines from the French or the Americans?  

All views are canvassed and it doesn’t matter whether you are a senior person in the organisation or someone who’s only just joined as an intern, everyone gets to give their opinion. 

Great inclusivity right? After all, true leaders are also great listeners. 

Well perhaps, but canvassing opinion is a tool to gauge the most common beliefs and values. It helps leaders make considered decisions but does not make the decisions for them.

Excessive asking makes everyone keen to give their opinion on all matters. Many get cranky if they’re not given the opportunity to say what they think. The plumber gets an opinion on health measures in a pandemic and the cardiologist on the price of cheese. 

Remember that opinion need not be based on evidence or facts, it is a view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.

But once everyone gives voice to their opinion, priorities hide under a bush.

Would you like extra value with that? 

It is a delight of the human condition that we each have a different set of values. It gives us diversity and plenty to talk about over the burger.

Values within each value set are held more strongly or weakly depending on culture, experience and nurture. As more people are added to the conversation, values become nuanced and the value propositions multiply.

A critical function of leadership is to help balance these values and to land on the optimal value set that most can agree on or be persuaded to follow.

In a leadership vacuum, the values space is filled by indecision. 

Organisations are held hostage by the committee and the plethora of values and have no idea which burger to make or what trimmings to add.

Novelty burgers

In the leadership vacuum where everyone has an opinion and all values are in the mix egos flourish. 

If my value or opinion is unusual or a bit out there, no worries. I can follow it anyway and make it happen through force of personality with a side of arrogance. There is no reason to knuckle down and collaborate, I can just go and do my thing on my own and build a burger with a tofu pattie and a slice of pawpaw instead of beetroot. 

This lone ranger approach is great for creatives and artists of all kinds. It works for entrepreneurs and futurists too but is not so helpful if the task is to make billions of burgers at a realistic price or to choose the most cost-effective marine deterrent that is in the best interest of the country.

The novelty burger has a niche market but sales always stall.

Deconstructed burger

A profusion of Lone Rangers, or whatever the collective noun might be, generates so many burger options that the whole meaning of the burger is deconstructed out of existence.

Nobody knows what the national dish is anymore and togetherness suffers. 

It is not long before any collective purpose is lost and society drifts. This is ideal for those who never believed in the burger in the first place and knew everyone should eat tofu because they did.

Leaders provide direction. It is a core purpose of the breed and they can win hearts and minds because we crave the good vibes that come from collaboration on a shared direction — the contradiction that makes us Lone Rangers in the first place. 

In the absence of leaders who can articulate a shared direction, we invent them for ourselves.

Tandoori chicken instead

Perhaps the most important consequence of a leadership vacuum is that we lose respect for leadership. Burgers are forgotten as we find alternatives in the tandoori oven.

A glance at politics in the mature economies shows most leaders on the nose to the point of ridicule and disbelief. And it’s not just Boris obviously. Recall that respect is ‘a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements’. In other words, it is earned. 

Vacuous leadership not only fails to garner respect from lack of ability, it also erodes the repository of respect built up over generations by previous incumbents. The likes of Lincoln, Churchill, Ghandi, and Mandela didn’t build a mountain of leadership respect for jokers like Trump to trash it in one term of office. 

They did the right thing for their people in their time. 

A flogged analogy 

Burgers will always be on the menu somewhere — they are delicious, easy to eat, cheap to make and go great with sides.

We will get leaders back soon enough.

The risk is that in a rush to calm our fears and avoid chaos we allow leadership that makes us all eat the same burger, every day for the rest of our lives.  


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The man in the middle

The man in the middle

Photo by L.W. on Unsplash

A picture is worth a thousand words. 

As this one is worth a million of them, I will risk copyright infringement because it’s too good not to share with you.

A brilliant photograph by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images appears in an online article in The Guardian.

On the left of the unmasked man in somnolent posture is António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, a career politician, former Prime Minister of Portugal and the Secretary-General of the United Nations — a 71-year-old white man in relaxed but attentive mode.

On the right of the reclining dude is Sir David Attenborough, the internationally renowned broadcaster, naturalist and author who is 95 years young. 

Sir David has been busy his entire life and has remained prolific and added activism to his resume in his retirement years. Finally able to speak his mind as one of the very few people on the planet old and travelled enough to see the change in the planet’s biodiversity with his own still sharp eyes. He is also wise enough to interpret what he has seen for what it represents — a massive impact from human beings on the rest of the planet. 

The gentleman in the middle is understandably a little tired. 

He had to jet down from Glasgow to London to attend a dinner at The Garrick Club in the West End. This gentleman’s club, a simple euphemism for men only, was founded in 1831 and currently has a seven-year waiting list of new candidates. Gentlemen prospects must be proposed by an existing member and elected in a secret ballot, the original assurance of the committee being “that it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted”.

Our napping chap had to fly down to the club for a reunion of Daily Telegraph journalists. Naturally, there would be revelry and a complete absence of boredom in an exhilarating dinner date.  Such a foray would knock any big-hearted galoop about a bit.

However, duty is a demanding mistress. 

This opportunity for a kip is at the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It came just after one’s cabinet colleague delivered a budget promoting air travel by reducing taxes on domestic passenger flights. Jetting about shows leadership by example.

The colleague, Mr Sunak, may or may not be in line for club membership given he has something about him that may have come from his Punjabi Hindu parents. On the plus side has an obscenely wealthy spouse. This conundrum will mean assurances of the committee come after more than one round of Graham’s 1972 single harvest port. 

Duty and revelry are ready reasons to excuse dozing off.

The absent mask, not so much.

How many words would capture the thoughts running through the REM sleep of the man in the middle? 

The picture suggests something like this:

I am a pig in shit, and I don’t give a fuck about anything else that is going on. I’m just enjoying the adulation and how everyone laughed at my jokes.

Caught on the wrong side of history

Caught on the wrong side of history

Photo by Shaah Shahidh on Unsplash

According to Ian Verrender, ABC business editor, a senior Australian government minister who was on the wrong side of a few drinks made this off the cuff comment…

 “The difference between Labor’s policy and ours is that Julia Gillard introduced a scheme where big polluters paid Australian taxpayers. Tony changed it so that Australian taxpayers pay big polluters,” 

Unnamed Austrailian Government Minister

This bizarre statement referred to the carbon price, the so-called ‘great big tax’ introduced by the Labour government in 2012. This blog has mentioned the debacle that is Australian climate policy and the frustration and sadness that it has been thus for over a decade.

Imagine the arrogance in this inebriated quip. 

Australians elect such individuals, and as an excellent article by Leigh Sales, another ABC stalwart, tells us, this level of vulgarity is typical. It is not a personality thing but ingrained into the political system. It is leadership that lacks.

I always liked the idea that the cream rises to the top. 

It ranks alongside ‘the truth persists’ as quotes that are hopeful and true. The problem is it’s taking a while, way too long. 

“Cream always rises to the top…so do good leaders”.

John Paul Warren

The delay in the arrival of some genuine leaders will have consequences.

One of the more ironic is the one Ian Verrender describes, the consequences for Australia of the rest of the world putting a price on carbon in the form of carbon border taxes. Countries that have lowered emissions and want to keep it that way are reluctant to import emission-intensive commodities. At least that is the rhetoric.

The reality for Australia is that there will be carbon levies. The world was trending towards enforcing climate policy through trade action. For example, the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Legislation is still rough but will include aluminium, iron, steel, cement, natural gas, oil and coal. 

Here are the 10 Biggest Exporting Industries in Australia

  1. Iron Ore Mining $123.1B
  2. Oil and Gas Extraction $39.8B
  3. Coal Mining $37.6
  4. Liquefied Natural Gas Production $34.8B
  5. Gold and Other Non-Ferrous Metal Processing $29.4B
  6. Meat Processing $15.9B
  7. Grain Growing $8.2B
  8. Alumina Production $7.4B
  9. Pharmaceutical Product Manufacturing $6.9B
  10. Copper, Silver, Lead and Zinc Smelting and Refining $6.8B

That is at least $309 billion in exports that could get slugged for their emission intensity. If the levy is just 5%, that is $15 billion in lost revenue… per year.

But it’s ok; the taxpayer is waiting patiently to pay the big polluters.


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Political power is not what it’s cracked up to be

Political power is not what it’s cracked up to be

Photo by John Adams on Unsplash

Our prime ministers and premiers wield far less power than most people believe… Instead, power is distributed across multiple actors – business leaders, media, unions, peak bodies and political factions in addition to the individual political leaders. Most leaders today operate a never-ending mental calculus of how they accommodate the competing demands of these groups in a way that will extend their period of office. Simple as that.

David Hetherington, Senior Fellow at Per Capita

Succinctly put Mr Hetherington. Our political captains are not the only hands on the tiller. Indeed they are arguably not able to move the tiller at all.

At least that is what we thought until they told us to go home and shut the door, which almost all of us did without blinking.

So, yes they are powerless in the face of competing demands when their primary objective is to stay in office. And they really like it in office, it feeds their egos that have voracious appetites. But no, they are not without power. They told us to jump and we said, “how high?”.

This was a fascinating response.

Clearly we were spooked by a nasty virus that at best would make us sick or could signal the end, if not for us, then grandpa. It made sense to stay home and bake.

Only something similar happened in the early 1930’s in Germany.

People were spooked by a massive and disastrous global recession that for the Germans meant that foreign investors, who had come in to help rebuild an economy battered by WWI and the reparations that followed, left in a hurry, taking their money with them, the Americans who are always sniffing an opportunity in particular.

Along came a political opportunist and mesmerising public speaker who exhorted the German people to jump and they did. History tells us what happened next.

Before this connection turns you off as completely nonsensical. Pause for a moment.

The people who jumped back in the 1930s were highly educated, well to do citizens, familiar with success and a high standard of living that they enjoyed in the boom period of the 1920s.

Sound familiar?

They believed they were living in a democracy and that their leaders had their best interests and the country at heart. They also knew that somebody needed to take tough decisions to deal with what was spooking them; the prospect of economic ruin.

Familiar too?

The point is that modern politics may well be at the mercy of multiple actors, especially those with money, but it is not entirely toothless. Leaders can turn on a dime and make remarkable things happen. Not all of them nice or in our best long term interests.

Even if our politicians were genius-level decision-makers, the global disturbance from this pandemic will deliver recessions and depressions with horrible suffering for those already struggling. They will be joined by way too many folks who have not known unemployment, perhaps experiencing it for the first time in their adult lives.

I was one of the one-in-ten for a brief while back in the UK in the early 1980’s — a number on a list, as UB40 famously crooned.

My buddy and I applied for over 100 jobs each in a little competition to see who could land one first. We both failed and ended up in further education seeking higher degrees to help us along, he in atmospheric physics, me in ecology. So smart enough but not employable enough. It seems a long time ago now but it was a real struggle at the time. One in ten was felt by everyone.

When unemployment reaches 14% we are at one in 7.

When it reaches 20% we are at one in 5

These are the numbers of serious discontent.

If at least one dude in the round at the pub is unemployed, there is unrest among all the pub-goers. At any moment any one of them will join the queue for the dole check.

This, of course, is what is driving the political decisions to lift restrictions. Unrest is never pleasant. But to lift them only to go back to the ‘simple as that’ would be a massive opportunity missed.

Alright, enough doom and gloom.

Here is a slightly brighter note.

A new normal

This would be very nice.

How about the renewal of safety nets some redistribution of wealth to pay for it and much greater attention to issues that affect all of us.

Only we can’t expect that to come from the politicians who are telling us every day about stage 2 or stage 3 restrictions and when they might be lifted to get everyone back to normal. The one that we just left behind, potentially forever.

The politicians need normal to be what it was otherwise their juggle among the vested interests will be too hard and the balls will fall.

Unless they have got it all wrong.

There is an idea going around that Modern Monetary Theory might offer an alternative, a radical economic theory that budget deficits are are good, not bad and that government debt is necessary as the source of healthy economic growth. The idea is that investments that enhance productivity such as better health, greater knowledge and skills, improved transport are worth funding, even if it results in a budget deficit.

The theory is that spending is necessary to put money into the economy before governments can tax or borrow. Government spending actually precedes taxation. Then taxation is used to keep everyone in employment.

In Covid times this sounds like a plan.

And it presents a way to avoid a rapid return to political influence from business and the peak bodies that they pay to cheer for them with unstinting help from their media lackeys.

Wouldn’t that be nice?


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