Author Archives: Tony Baldwinson

Will AI solve capitalism, or, can we have our science back please

Health care in the USA costs twice as much per capita than in any other western country, with worse outcomes. Every other country has socialised health care, except the USA. The fix for the USA? Well, according to a recent online article in Wired on Alphabet aka Google’s investments in tech, the industry will find the solution in big data, captured real time, with AI and machine learning. Really.

How did science get in such a mess? Tech is now our go-to magic solution for health inequalities, for climate change, for ending disease. Our very own black box. And this isn’t new. The UK Labour Prime Minister in the 1960s, Harold Wilson, gained popularity by saying in a major speech that he would “harness the white heat of technology” for a better life for everyone.

But science requires proof, not just hope. And on the proof side, tech hasn’t delivered all the goods it promised. But don’t worry, tech says, we are only one more upgrade away from the answer … 5G, 6G, 7G … we will crack it very soon. Just sign here please.

Tech has a positive role, from artificial limbs to MRI scans. But all things in moderation. It isn’t magic, and it isn’t a reason to stop looking for non-tech solutions as well. As with eating more non-processed food, if we want a better future we need to critically challenge the magical thinking, and apply scientific thinking to tech.

Planning now for post-Trump

Trumpocracy, by David Frum
HarperCollins 2018, 9780062796738 (USA edition)

For lefties like me this is an odd but worthwhile read. David Frum is a dyed in the wool Republican, he wrote speeches for President George W. Bush. Yet the first part of his book is as sharp and critical an analysis of all Trump’s errors as anything the Left has written.

Frum then looks at what he thinks the Republican Party needs to do to repair the damage and hold on to power.

The chapter headings are pretty clear, such as: Enablers, Appeasers, Resentments, and Rigged System, as well as Hope at the end.

At the start of this book I was expecting the approach would be along the lines of – Trump has torn up the gentlemen’s agreement of two-party politics, when he’s gone the gentlemen can return to doing their business as usual, or in Latin the status quo ante as the gents would probably say.

But not so much, actually.

Frum is not a fan of Bernie Sanders, but he does agree that both main parties were serving an elite agenda rather than a popular one. Tax cuts for the rich, insecure low-pay work, reduced healthcare coverage, corporate greed. Trump appealed to a popular base, in complex ways that the book explores. This is worth close study: it isn’t just the stereotypes of rust belt unemployed men, of red neck hill farmers with gun in hand, nor of young lonely white males in basements with video games but no job or education. Though I think Frum gets a bit muddled here, as these are his most developed examples.

Gender is a key factor, as is race. “Male resistance to Hillary Clinton animated not only the Trump campaign … On average, white male Democrats backed Sanders by 26.4 points more than white women did.” (p197) Clinton scored badly with white women without a college degree. (p 212) And the proxies for Trump’s racism throughout have been immigration, Muslims and crime.

And enabling all this, “The affluent and the secure persisted with old ways and old names in the face of the disillusionment and even the radicalization of the poorer two-thirds of society. They invited a crisis. The only surprise was … how surprised they were when the invited crisis arrived.” (p13) and how it works is that “Trump operates not by strategy, but by instinct. His great skill is to sniff out his opponents’ vulnerabilities”. (p xi)

For Frum (and myself) the core of understanding Trump’s appeal is in a quote from an essay by Dale Beran who concluded with, “Trump is the loser who has won.” (p199)

So, bearing in mind his audience is the Republican Party, Frum sets out a post-Trump agenda of “a conservatism that is culturally modern, economically inclusive, and environmentally responsible, that upholds markets at home and US leadership internationally.” (p 207)

These are in priority order, and I paraphrase:
– making affordable healthcare work for everyone
– limiting immigration
– no more tax cuts for the rich
– honesty shown in government.

He adds two more items in another chapter, “issues neglected by more conventional politicians: the ravages of drug addiction … [and] the cultural and economic decline of the industrial working class.” (p 220)


How would a Left agenda be different, I wonder?

I read this book as a Brit while visiting Canada. More specifically in Calgary, a city known for the Stampede, its annual cowboy rodeo, a vast open area of “prairie and farming culture” due north of Montana. Red neck country? No, partly because it is Canada not the USA, so public health care and gun control. But still the prairie and the mountains are culturally core and deeply held here.

Yet it is also a city with an annual four-day outdoor folk music festival – which we greatly enjoyed – with music from Aboriginal peoples, from First Nation groups including hip hop, from Black protest musicians from Fergusson Alabama, alongside blues, country, folk and rock all referencing each other. With one MC who is a Nicaraguan lesbian comedian.

So lets put the stereotypes of despair to one side.

I guess the Left would have common cause with much of the above agenda for post-Trump Republicans, except on immigration. The long-overdue question is, I suggest, what is modern internationalism?

– Is it open borders, as in a device used by the globalisation agenda of rich elites to drive down wages and job security?

– Is it xenophobic racism and nationalism (and frankly violence) against people of colour?

– Is there a possible method to have unapologetic migration without low pay? And even if it is possible, will “indigenous” local communities accept incomers who are different?

As with the EU freedom of movement discussions (and silences) in the UK at the moment, I wonder if the post-Trump agenda around the world will pivot left or right on immigration.

I feel there ought to be an answer here, possibly with open borders alongside strong pay and conditions safeguards, with residency civil rights and obligations, and with a graded response to entitlements depending on the years of residency. For the UK, the parallel issue is uneven job prospects between London and regions further away which fuels racism and xenophobia, similarly for Washington DC and many poorer States in USA.

Mass shootings, USA and Canada

I am travelling in Canada and sitting in Toronto Pearson airport at gate B19 waiting with a crowd for my connecting flight on 24 July. On a big screen, silent with subtitles, the TV news is showing poignant tributes with flowers and chalk messages near the scene following a mass shooting in the city’s Greektown district where two people died and thirteen others have been injured.

A couple, both maybe in their thirties, are sitting near to me. He says to her, “You know, in the States for two dead we wouldn’t call that a mass shooting. Wouldn’t even make the evening news, most likely.”

I don’t think they meant it badly. But it troubles me in two ways. To say such a thing in public and so matter-of-fact when people around are maybe hurting. And that for the States it is true.

I am ‘one of those’

So, there I was, running a workshop this week as you do, getting folk to sign in and showing them how the strange coffee-making arrangements work…

  • Punter: so, how are you funded?
  • Me: well, half is from the UK regional funds and half from the EU. 
  • Punter: oh, what will you do after Brexit then?
  • Me: personally, I don’t think it will happen the way they say. Said so two years ago. 
  • Punter: ah, you are one of those.
  • Me: yep, ‘fraid so.

My consolation, as is often the case, is in Leonard Cohen –

“I told you, I told you, I to-old you, I was one of those.”

On the colour wheel the opposite of green is magenta

When we talk about green economics, we are already at a disadvantage. Because the opposition has the upper ground and can just talk about economics. It is as if the opposition already own the main idea and anything green is a minority or sub-set of their main, wider topic.

Politicians and PR people call this device framing. They try to control the language to their advantage. An example is always saying the words illegal and immigration together so that legal and welcomed and beneficial immigration becomes lost in the debate. Slogans help here.

So, my suggestion is we green folk need to do some positive framing of our own.

On the colour wheel, the opposite of green is magenta.

In which case, it is green economics versus
– the polluting magenta economics of growth at any cost,
– of unsustainable magenta exploitation of a finite planet,
– of magenta growing inequalities, and
– of magenta levels of air instead of surface travel.

And, hopefully, one day soon green economics just becomes economics.

Come the Revolution

This was written by Lorraine Gradwell, probably in the late 1990s, concerning her early development in disability politics through sports. The title comes from the name of the computer document.


As a young disabled person, at a mainstream school, my contact with other disabled teenagers was minimal. Indeed, I did my level best to avoid being seen with other disabled people in case I was identified as “one of them”. Until the day when this guy in a wheelchair took a fancy to my (non-disabled) friend. He’d seen us together – his mate drove the day-centre bus and he did the rounds in the passenger seat, much less boring than the day centre!

He knew where I lived because he had seen the taxi dropping my friend and I off at my home after school. So, he started putting notes through my letterbox, saying why didn’t my friend and I go to the “sports club” on a Friday night? He and his (non-disabled) mate would pick us up, in the Social Services bus, and take us to the Community Centre where the sports club met. In this way began my short but exciting “career” as a disabled athlete – and my introduction to the concept of the eternal triangle and unrequited love; but that’s another story.

The significant issue here is that, not only did I no longer wish to dissociate myself from all other disabled people, suddenly I was falling in love with one of them and voluntarily spending every Friday night in the company of people I would previously have run a mile from.

On those Friday nights I learnt to accept and befriend people with a wide range of impairments, abilities and social skills. I chose to meet up with those who became my friends for social occasions, and I learnt a lot about the interactions between disabled and non-disabled people. I joined in with collective action as our committee raised funds for a minibus, for sporting equipment and to pay for weekends away at sports events. Our methods may well have been a little questionable – rattling tins on the street with the best of them, as well as sponsored wheelchair marathons, but we developed team spirit and bought our bus!

By now I was in serious training – swimming 50 or 60 lengths, five times a week and lined up for selection to the England Swimming Team for the Commonwealth Games in New Zealand. Although at mainstream college, with no other disabled students around that I can remember, I was spending a lot of my time in the company of disabled people both locally and nationally. I still went to the local club on a Friday, but also to archery practice twice a week. At weekend events, up and down the country, the sports were almost secondary to the social life and I was introduced to yet another concept – the one night stand, which most people entered into wholeheartedly!

At the time – early 70s – I was not at all politically aware, and disability politics were not a matter I would have understood or recognised – even if the issues were being discussed in my circles, which they were not.

And yet …

… in my late teens I was involved with others in an organisation which was set up and controlled by disabled people, which brought disabled people of many ages together at many levels, which involved non-disabled people in a supporting role, and which gave many of us a sense of pride or purpose, regardless of whether or not people agree with the competitive angle of these activities.

Personally, I made use of mainstream and “dedicated” sports facilities, became a local celebrity and role model, travelled to New Zealand to compete in the Commonwealth Games and achieved a level of integration, in an often hostile society, which would have been unlikely without my competitive sport. That these activities contributed to my confidence, my sense of personal value, and changed my view of myself as a disabled person is unquestionable.

Of course, there were and are many shortcomings to disability sports. The ruling bodies of “disability sport” do not work to principles of equal opportunities, either in their employment practices or the services they deliver. As recently as 12th February, 19 regional and national officers from the English Sports Council and other disability sports organisations met to discuss the way forward for disabled people in sport – none of these 19 were disabled people.

Many sports clubs had far too much control by non-disabled people, and many were aligned to spinal units and therefore had heavy involvement by medical professionals. Indeed the whole concept of sport as therapy, developed by Sir Ludwig Guttman of Stoke Mandeville, was questioned by many of us who saw our activities as something we had chosen to do, rather than an extension of rehabilitation. Also, the clubs that were aligned to the spinal units were, on the whole, better resourced than those such as ours, running out of a community centre on a Friday night.

There were the “hierarchies” of impairment which ruled that “paraplegic was better than polio, was better than spastic”; we knew it wasn’t true but we knew that it operated on the sports scene and elsewhere. And there was the danger of becoming a hero, the “tragic but brave” sporting type who overcame all obstacles; undoubtedly, some people revelled in this attention – but the majority of us recognised this false adulation.

There were, and are, many problems inherent in disability sports, not least the fact that any “political outcomes” are almost by chance, rather than planned. But my point is that they are a means of bringing disabled people, and especially young disabled people, together in a way that can expose them to the politics of disability and can often  lead to a questioning of society’s structures and organisation, even if this is almost an unconscious questioning.

Rather than trivialising the impact that sport can have on the lives of disabled people, might it not be better if we, as movement, recognise that this is “where a lot of disabled people are at” and seek to make links and influence how these activities are provided and by whom? We make much of the disability arts scene as a way in which we can come together, seek affirmation from each other, develop a culture of disabled people. But – dare I say it – what if you’re not the arty type? And what if you are, but you still like to train, or compete, or just play sports with your mates? It’s time the movement gave some attention to activities which attract a lot of disabled people but which we denigrate because it is often seen as therapeutic, controlled by non-disabled people and competitive.

I well remember planning a very early Coalition meeting, with a colleague, on the “politics of disability”. Halfway through the planning session he looked up at me quizzically.

“What is it?” I said.

“Well,” he said, ”you’re saying all the right things, but I don’t know why!”

Perhaps my early experiences were more valuable than I ever realised.


The will of the people is to be half out, half in – but how many of us will honestly say so?

There are lots of articles on Brexit today, one year before the leaving date. But most of them blame half the UK population for voting “the wrong way.”

They will say how the other half were stupid, manipulated, ignorant, angry, complacent, and so on. Followed by, “if only they had realised …” the lie about £350million a week to the NHS, the manipulation of Facebook and Twitter, the conspiracy of big business, the false promises, and so on.

I disagree. Two years on, we need to start an honest conversation with people we don’t happen to agree with. It doesn’t have to be long, technical or detailed.

My summary is:

1. The people voted half in, half out. And after all we have learnt since polling day, this sentiment has not changed much at all. Another referendum would also be half in, half out.

2. We need to respect every vote, not just the votes of people who agreed with us. Until we do so, the divisions across the UK will continue to fester: urban and rural, richer and poorer, younger and older, north and south.

3. So, we need to become a half member of the EU, like the people of Norway agreed years ago. We can call it associate membership, which as in any club gives us lower subscriptions and less involvement.

4. And we need to take this honest, inclusive and healing communities approach into the negotiations. So, if the negotiations fail the fall-back isn’t a catastrophic No Deal, the fall-back is a Norway cut snd paste.

5. So, from now on our politicians should negotiate amendments to a Norway cut and paste – maybe less about reindeer programmes say, and more about tweaking financial services, world trade and free movement. Which is actually still quite a hard set of asks.

Half in and half out.

In French, moitié, moitié.

In English, pragmatism.