It was an eerily subdued 2019 festive season. Perhaps it was the General Election result in December: an overwhelming win for the Conservatives across all classes, including the working class. Or perhaps it was simply a subjective felling, a melancholic déjà vu brought on by a 61st Christmas. Or perhaps it was the ominous feeling of doom, that something nefarious was heading our way. Not an unreasonable feeling given Brexit and its utter stupidity.
The problem with depression is that the sufferer's prescience is almost always vindicated, as hypervigilant scanning for the next disaster has the accuracy of a heat-seeking drone. Of course, disasters happen whether you're feeling melancholic or not, but it's the dread that does the damage.
And so it proved. Entering 2020 was the worst transition from one year to the next that I can remember. Australia's catastrophic bushfires, raging throughout the festive season, were terrifying. Just as terrifying was the realisation of the fallibility of humans to effectively control this force of nature. Like most sensible people, I believe climate change has contributed to these fires, but I don't know for sure. Climate scientists, the experts, have been warning us for years of the consequences of human-driven climate change. What seems downright irrational is its denial.
One country not in denial, is Russia. The country's meteorological service predicts that temperatures will be up to 16C higher than normal this week. Published on the Kremlin's website, the authorities not only plan to mitigate the damage of the effects of climate change, but to 'use the advantages'. The document notes the increased opportunities for navigation, particularly for the military, as ice melts in the Arctic. Hotter temperatures, the plan suggests, may open up more areas for farming, and it lists measures such as the building of more dams and switching to drought-resistant crops. Other advantages of increased temperatures, the Russians suggest, are decreased spending on heating during the usually harsh winters. You've got to hand it to Russia, it's probably the most pragmatic country on the planet.
Three days after the warning bells rung on Hogmanay, the US plunged us into nervous anxiety by assassinating Iranian general Qasem Soleimani by drone strike. Trump's motives for doing so are unavailable to us, but there is no evidence that he's a rational actor. He's a dangerous, immoral, childish idiot. But then Soleimani was a dangerous, cold-blooded murderer. So, what to make of this? I really don't know. However, the killing of Soleimani framed my 2020 resolution, simply: To Take Experts Seriously Again
. Ignore the sirens on social media, instead scour the long-reads by experts in journals such as Foreign Affairs
It becomes evident that Iran and the US have had an unhealthy obsession with each other for over 40 years. It's like a couple of people of my acquaintance, and probably yours, who wage interminable conflict on one another, each hell-bent on destroying the reputation of the other and bringing others into their obsessive hate campaigns. Thankfully, they don't have drones at their disposal.
Retaliation is rarely a good response – but some are less serious than others – and the basic facts demonstrate that any retaliation will not pose an existential threat to the West. What are these facts?
1. The Iranian population is a quarter that of the US;
2. The Iranian economy is 2% as large as that of the US;
3. The US and its allies spend 50 times the amount Iran spends on its armed forces;
4. The US can produce state-of-the-art weapons while the Iranians cannot;
5. The Iranians do
have long range missiles, but cannot use them without incurring devastating retaliation;
6. The Iranians have no allies to make up for facts 1-5;
7. We all know facts 1-6, as do the Iranians. So why does Iran persist? Obsessive mutual hatred. US and Iran's destructive relationship reminds me of Hobbes' observation that men are driven by 'a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death'. In all likelihood, it won't be America's death.
Blood, blood, glorious blood
On the dubious rationale that watching some good, old-fashioned, fictional horror is an antidote to real-life horror, the BBC's Dracula
seemed just the ticket. Furthermore, I had discovered recently via findings published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science
that victims of vampire attacks in 19th-century novels displayed a wide range of symptoms that strongly resemble the physical symptoms of acute leukaemia, a cancer from which I almost died in 2014, then again in a 2015 relapse, so I was intrigued. At last, this blasted disease had some glamour like consumption (tuberculosis), the 'romantic disease' portrayed in literature, music, painting and in Puccini's La Boheme
and Verdi's La Traviata.
In the 19th century, leukaemia had not yet been identified as a disease which is perhaps why its array of symptoms inspired novelists to assign a supernatural explanation in the form of vampire attacks. The researchers concluded that real-life acute leukaemia patients, for whom the disease very quickly and aggressively progresses, 'very likely were the inspiration for the symptoms of victims in the Gothic vampire literature'.
I should have guessed the impact this excellent BBC production would have. Instead of romanticing the disease, I had a series of mini panic attacks and threw up. It was too close. Zoe Van Helsing, played brilliantly by Dolly Well, had leukaemia, that's for sure.
There's a wonderful psychiatrist in the Beatson called Chris, my 'needle shrink', who has helped cure my blood phobia over the years. There was a time when a simple blood test was enough to bring on a faint, never mind transfusions and the rest of it. I think I need to give him a call. The BBC will be blamed for the return of my bloody phobia.