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Springsteen – Writer-insighter

The price you pay

Once upon a time, in a land long ago, I was at a rodeo.

No, seriously.

Snarkness on the edge of town.
Snarkness on the edge of town.

It was in a place called Greencastle, In.,  and the only way you’ll ever have heard of it is if you work for IBM, know where one of two V1 rockets in the USA are (apart from Werner von Braun’s den, obviously), or you’re an alumni of De Pauw university. Or you know something about Dillinger or the way any old bank robbery in the 1930s got attributed to the famous robbers if the actual robbers didn’t get caught and escaped in a car. Or maybe, like me, you were chasing a red-haired cheerleader called Nancy-Jean and driving a ludicrously big old car that probably extinguished three species on its own.

Anyway, it was a Saturday, Nancy-Jean was out of town, I was staying at her folks’ place in her room with the rainbow painted on the wall (as Werner used to say, ach, it vas all so long
ago…), I’d done a week’s worth of pretending to be in a Springsteen song working in a sawmill the other side of the tracks and apart from golf, which I don’t do because I don’t, there wasn’t a whole lot else to do. As we used to say.

I sat there on the bleachers (oh because that’s what they’re CALLED, ok?) and had myself a darned fine time. The steer wrestling was good. They got a steer and let it loose and anyone who thought they were hard enough grabbed it by the horns and wrestled it to the ground. Then they let it go. They didn’t have a whip or a gun or a stick, just their hands. It looked pretty equal to me.

Look, I know, ok? I’m not like that now. It was the past, it was definitely another country and they did things very differently there. But actually not so much, speaking as someone who had to get a lorry load of bullocks out of a pen and into a truck one dawn at Bridgewater Market. I was fourteen. I learned that bullocks are more scared of you than you are of them but it’s close. That if you twist the ring in their nose they’ll go anywhere you want. And that if you don’t you might end up sneezing your lungs out of your nose after they’ve slammed you into a metal fence and trodden on you.

I still wasn’t gonna go an wrassle a bull and that ain’t no lie.

I just watched and listened. A guy who was about my age now, wearing a cowboy hat, was talking a few feet away. I liked him. He was one of those people who could turn pretty much anything he said into a story and a good-natured one at that.

Even when what he was saying was serious. And sad. He told a woman a few seats away and pretty much anyone else who wanted to hear about his daughter. She’d bought herself one of those fancy Japanese cars, a Honda or a Toyota or something. And in the real world of Indiana back then, you didn’t do that. So he stopped talking to her. It had been months.

He said it was for a reason. Sure, it was a good car. Maybe better than a comparable American car. In fact no, definitely. She was smart. And it was cheaper. But if everybody did that there wouldn’t be no car industry. And that meant Americans, real ones he knew, up in Flint and Gary not even a hundred miles away, wouldn’t have jobs.

I don’t have much sympathy for the people who voted for Trump for a lot of reasons, but this one is up at the front. Actions have consequences. The first time I went to the US all the clothes in shops were from the USA. The second time, 12 years later, I couldn’t find any that were and they were less than half the price. If you buy cheap import stuff I don’t think you have the option of complaining about the lack of jobs at home.

And before anyone writes that off as elitist, that people on low incomes don’t have those choices, they do. They chose to buy a phone made in China and a network data plan instead of a $40 shirt from the USA. But they still need a shirt so they get a $15 one made in Guatamala instead. Funny how that factory closed and there ain’t no jobs here no more. Dang Democrats and their elitist globalisation. Trump all the way.

Tom Petty had to live with some hard promises. Springsteen told us we could count so many foreign ways to the price we paid. And now I’m as old as the guy in the cowboy hat back at the rodeo, I know they were both right. And Trump and his supporters are wrong and always wrong. Because there aren’t easy answers. What you do comes back to you.

Life, as Dr Hook put it, ain’t easy and nothing ain’t free. And cheap stuff isn’t. Sometimes you have to do without the things you want because of what will happen if you get them. Don’t want globalisation? Then don’t buy its products. People like Trump always promise it’s about personal responsibility; Thatcher did it too. But their biggest message was always the opposite: the bad stuff, that’s  always someone else’s fault.

I ate a hot dog, watched the men wrassling steers and drove my big old Chevrolet back to Nancy-Jean’s house, up on the hill by the golf course, the good side of the tracks. A week later I drove down to Bloomington to see her, then drove out west on I-70 into my life, leaving her to hers.


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Put your lights on

In a story absolutely nothing to do with Carlos Santana’s song, which as a sign of aging I still think is quite new even though it came out in 1999, according to the BBC the Energy Secretary Ed Davey has defended the building of a new nuclear power station at Hinckley Point as “a very good deal for Britain.”  In twenty years of providing research-based consultancy I’ve come to detest facts being used to spin a story that they contradict, not least because when the person doing it is found out the first thing he does is blame the people who provided them. I’ve seen whole company boards of directors literally screaming across a table at each other when that happens. It doesn’t generally go in the book of best management practice. But then, incidents like that are supposed to magically unhappen in most management books I’ve ever read.

I don’t know whether nuclear power is better or worse than windmills or tidal barrages or lots of people on stationary bicycles converted into dynamos. But the number of flat contradictions in the story makes me think someone isn’t so much being what the last Tory government chose to call being economical with the actuality, as flat lying.

“A good deal for Britain” now means giving an eye-watering amount of money to EDF, the French company which will be building and operating the power station, along with a Chinese company. In both France and China these companies are effectively nationalised, so now a good deal for Britain directly means that UK tax payers’ money is given directly to foreign governments and this is officially Good. This isn’t me being a bit political, as Ben Elton used to say. There isn’t another way of looking at this. The money couldn’t, for example, be given to the British government’s power companies because they were sold off cheap (just like the Royal Mail, whose shares have jumped 50% in the first week since the launch).

The government estimates that energy bills will be £77 lower by 2030, but Mr Davey could not guarantee this because of the “uncertainties”.

In other words, Mr Davey, who as a Cabinet Minister is one of the most senior members of ‘the government’ has said that what was said isn’t necessarily true.

Greenpeace pointed out helpfully that the official story is that power prices are going to be locked for 35 years. But as David Cameron, the Prime Minister said last week, he couldn’t stop power prices rising this winter. There is no magical thing that makes this winter (the one where prices cannot be controlled) different from the one half a lifetime away where apparently they can.

Even normally shy and retiring Ed Milliband had to comment on the fact that his Right Honourable Friend said he couldn’t do anything at all about consumer prices now, but could definitely fix the price the government was going to pay for power in 35 years.

Mr Davey plans to submit the application for state aid clearance to the EC.

Let’s look at that for a second. You might think the dead hand of the European Union shouldn’t get involved with the workings of a sovereign government. You might also wonder why the UK government is in the business of giving state aid to foreign companies, especially when they are owned by foreign governments. Clearly it’s not enough that we exported the production of the stuff that fills pound shops to China; now we have to give state aid to their government as well.

Angela Knight, chief executive of trade body Energy UK, said 

“We’ve got 10 years in which to insulate our homes better. We’ve got 10 years to take the steps that some other countries have taken – especially those in colder countries – to make sure that we can keep warm but use less.” 

Some other countries have a private rented housing market, where energy inefficient homes are harder to find occupants for. Some other countries actually build houses, modern, energy efficient, insulated houses, rather than allowing ‘the market’ to dictate that fewer new homes were built last year than in any year in the previous ninety. That’s right. in 1924 more homes were built than in 2012. The market doesn’t want new homes. If there were new homes then the rubbishy inefficient heat-leaking old ones we have wouldn’t sell for as much. Who on earth wants that?

Still, what do I know? Someone who probably knows a little bit more about stuff than me is Dr Paul Dorfman, from the Energy Institute at University College London, who said “what it equates to actually is a subsidy and the coalition said they would never subsidise nuclear”.

He added: “It is essentially a subsidy of between what we calculate to be £800m to £1bn a year that the UK taxpayer and energy consumer will be putting into the deep pockets of Chinese and French corporations, which are essentially their governments.”

Where do you even start with this?

So just to sum up, officially we don’t have any money and we can’t interfere in the market because not only is the market always right (except if it looks like the Royal Mail was deliberately and fraudulently undervalued, robbing the taxpayer, in which case it’s just a fluke and hardly worth mentioning) but interfering with the market means your Mum fancied Stalin. At exactly the same time we have £800 million a year to give to the French and Chinese governments in state aid so transparent that we have to ask the EC really nicely if it’s ok that we give it to them. Oh and the teeny little lie about never subsidising nuclear power, obviously.

Appropriately enough, way back in the 1980s there was a TV series called Edge of Darkness (not to be confused with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a searing insight into the 1970s power cuts and the Three Day Week, or Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness On The Edge of Town, a song protesting intermittent rural New Jersey power supplies), the hero’s daughter got herself shot protesting about nuclear energy, setting her father off on a quest to find out who was lying about what. Along the way he met a CIA man who saw the light, spitting out ‘Nuclear energy – they threw truth out the window the day they invented that stuff.’

Something to do with copyright and You Tube which I don’t pretend to understand is stopping me being able to bring you Put Your Lights On with sound.  So I’ll just type the words and you can hum them.

There’s a monster living under my bed
Whispering in my ear
There’s an angel with a hand on my head
She says I got nothing to fear

We all shine like stars, then we fade away.

I used to believe that grown-ups mostly told the truth and tried to help. Then I grew up too.

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