Friday, December 12, 2008

I'm confused

For many years, it has been obvious to anyone awake that we are wrecking the environment world-wide and that the days of energy profligacy would have to end soon.
I remember a few year ago advising a senior employee of one of the motor giants now rattling their begging bowls that he was in a dying industry and should change career while he had time. He didn't. And he was working in their finance arm!
And it isn't just the car industry that is in trouble. Every day there is news of more companies making employees redundant, just in time for Christmas.
Banks are tumbling all around. No sympathy. Senior bankers have used their power over real people to line their own pockets to an obscene extent, not infrequently in a fraudulent way. And they produce nothing, generate no wealth. Their personal millions come from taking a cut every time money moves. Sharks.
Our previous Prime Minister had a message from his god that he should sign up to the American invasion of Iraq. And where was the money going to come from? As my grandmother used to say, "God knows, and He won't tell."
So, all in all, money is pouring away from the country in all directions, but apparently there will be enough left over to build two aircraft carriers and a new "nuclear deterrent" fleet. Do you hear that, bin Laden? Doesn't it terrify you?
Clearly we must cut down our spending somehow. When I have to do this in my personal financial planning, I look first for the big things I can chop out, like an aircraft carrier or a nuclear submarine, or cutting out some entertainment like a crusade.
And here comes my confusion. The big boys running the country must know much better than I do how to prune a budget, but they have gone in for displacement activity instead by once again attacking people claiming benefits. All of them. Must be right, because investment banker David Freud says so, after spending all of three weeks demolishing the work of Beveridge and Bevan. As Matthew Norman wrote in the Independent, "It takes a rich man to pour such scorn on the poor".
So, we can borrow billions (or is it trillions? I've lost count!) of pounds to kill our fellow humans in Iraq or to bail out bankers, but we cannot afford to look after the people at the bottom of the income scales here at home. And experience tells us that the effort to squeeze money out of those who haven't got any will cost more that it saves.
But David Freud himself knows what losing a job can do to employees, admittedly at the expensive end of the pay scale, as this article in the Observer shows.
Yes, I'm confused.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ryan Larkin

Only just found Ryan Larkin, and this short film fits in so well with my blog theme "Musings on where we fit in to the overall scheme of things, if there is one... And occasionally writings or music which seem to illuminate it..."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A long coffee break

Sun in the piazza
Blank paper awaits my words
Gets only shadows

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sports Gear and a Coffee Break - Serendipity!

Surfing around for activity gear (yes, even me!), I came across a company in Cardigan Bay and Carnaby Street called howies®.

Their sports gear looks good and their website is amazing, with beautiful photos and loads of thought provoking pages. Thought provocation - now there's a thought...

Monday, June 2, 2008

Today is Republic Day

Back in March, I listed the English royal succession, pointing out that Miss Zenouska Mowatt was only 40 little accidents away from becoming Queen Zenouska.

Today being Republic Day, I thought I would check whether anything has changed. And hallelujah, one of those little accidents has happened! The Lady Marina-Charlotte Windsor, previously holding position 25, has apparently become a Roman Catholic, thus renouncing her already distant claim to the throne, pulling Miss Zenouska up to position 39.

The new Number 40, the one below Zenouska, is the Earl of Harewood, descendant of the Lascelles family who made their fortune in the West Indies through customs positions and the slave trade. That was in the late eighteenth century of course, when slavery was seen as a Good Thing.

I went back to the Royal website, to check once again what they contribute, and I couldn't find a single thing that couldn't be done as well or better by an elected president, a vice president or a former president (like the USA's President Carter), someone who had been chosen by the people.

Change can happen! The new government in Nepal has declared a Republic and asked the deposed king to hand over the keys of his palace so that it can be turned into a museum. No doubt there will be some conflicts and even violence before it settles down, but the major change has happened.

And closer to home we have the example of the Republic of Ireland. Until 1948 King George VI still had the title of King of Ireland, and it was unclear who was really the head of state - the English hereditary monarch or the democratically elected President of Ireland. This was settled in the Republic of Ireland Act in 1948, and Ireland formally became a Republic on 18 April 1949, the thirty third anniversary of the the Proclamation of the original Irish Republic.

It is only a small thing, I suppose, but my deep Irish roots tingle with pride when I see the President of Ireland, Mary MacAleese, like her predecessor Mary Robinson, walking out to meet the players at an international rugby match. What a comparison to the fusty, dusty, ceremonial encrusted Mountbatten-Windsors and their hangers-on.

Time for a Republic here too. But as it will replace the so-called "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland", what on earth are we going to call it?!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Keeping sane in an insane world

According to Gwyneth Lewis, National Poet of Wales in 2005-6, we should expand our concept of what is healthy to include depression, because it is "an important corrective mechanism for keeping us sane in an insane world". Gwyneth was talking on the BBC Radio 4 programme You and Yours today - here is a deep link to the talk - hope it is still functioning when you click it!

The programme invited several well-known people to talk about What disability means to me. Gwyneth was resistant to considering herself as disabled, even though the symptoms of clinical depression are indeed disabling while they last. On the contrary, despite dreading any signs of a possible impending attack, she looks at the positive effects depression can have, of getting things into context and escaping the tyranny of expectations that we should all be "high-earning, athletic-looking, brand-wearing consumers".

I have a number of good friends who are, like me, recovering depressives (or should that be depressives in remission?!) and sometimes we sit in a coffee shop and watch people rushing by, and wonder how many of them are in touch with their souls and how many are quietly desperate but haven't yet faced up to their problems or even realised they have them. Depression is not something to be wished on anyone - except maybe the idiots who say "Pull yourself together and get on with life" - but it does indeed have the upside of helping us see the world as it really is. That could be depressing in itself, but we know that we aren't the crazies - the crazies are the people who rush around in "the insane world" without ever finding out what life is for.

If someone in your life has or seems to have depression, I strongly recommend Gwyneth Lewis's book Sunbathing in the Rain, a cheerful book about depression!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Messages from India

India escaped from the British Empire on August 15th, 1947. The event was referred to as "the granting of Independence", though I find it hard nowadays to understand how a country the size of India, with such a wealth of ancient culture, religion, science and philosophy could ever have been "dependent" on Queen Victoria and her successors. Subjugated by ruthless military force and cunning diplomacy, yes, but "dependent"? Never. One of the big what-ifs of history is where we would be today if the colonial powers had developed honest open trade with the Indian sub-continent instead of behaving like pirates and attempting to subjugate the people. A Hindu friend tells me that bribery and corruption were not a serious problem in India until they were introduced by the British as part of their scheme to divide and rule. Whether this is true or not, he certainly believes it.

Back in 1947, I was a six year old schoolboy at a Catholic school with a mixture of gentle Irish and Jingoist English teachers. I learned that the Empire was a Good Thing, and its gradual transformation into the Commonwealth was a Good Thing too, because all the peoples still recognized George VI as their King, even if he could no longer stamp IND IMP (Emperor of India) on the coinage. And our wonderful missionaries would eventually convert all the benighted Hindus, Moslems and Sikhs to the one true Catholic faith, Amen. No mention of Buddhists, Jains, the ancient Christian Churches in Kerala and all the other traditions. Missionaries have to keep their view simple.

Since then, I have met many people from different countries of the sub-continent here in the UK, and as I am interested in religion and politics I have had many fascinating discussions which washed away my earlier indoctrination and replaced it with respect. However, there is also an uneasiness here about the way that large parts of the population of India live in extreme poverty and degradation, while other parts are enormously rich. I'm not a missionary, so I don't try to do anything about it other than contribute to Oxfam, but I do watch news reports from India with interest.

News reports, unfortunately, are biased and filtered. Not deliberately, but because the news corporations are interested only in the sensational, so the daily lives of real people are not covered. Therefore it was a breath of fresh air to come across Didi Seena's blog, Humming Leaves. Didi Seena describes herself as a hopeless romantic, but her writing brings a strong sense of what the real India of real people is like now. Many thanks, Seena, I'll keep reading!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Catalytic converter recycling?

Up to now, I had thought that SUVs (Chelsea Tractors) were just conspicuous consumption vehicle one-upmanship, except for the few farmers and country dwellers who really need the power and all-terrain capabilities. However, I've just read a news item from the USA which has made me think again.

Apparently the combination of a high wheelbase and a catalytic converter gives an opportunity for redistribution of wealth. A couple of minutes under the vehicle with a rotary saw, and the cat converter is free and ready to go for extraction of the platinum and palladium it contains. So the owner of the car has the problem of shelling out a few hundred dollars for a new converter and the labour to fit it, small change for someone who can afford such a hugely expensive auto in the first place, while the person with the saw has a nice addition to his income.

Just imagine the delight of a 'recycler' looking down a leafy suburban street with catalytic converters lined up under their over-sized vehicles just waiting for his saw! Or her saw, of course. Miserable incomes which drive people to crime are not a male prerogative.

Of course, it is not just SUVs and their cousins which are at risk. Ordinary cars have converters too, but their exhaust systems are less easy to get at without a jack or lifting tackle. In terms of capital investment and potential income per hour, the SUV wins out every time. And an SUV exhaust system is bigger - more platinum and palladium.

So many trends cross here. The failure of our not-quite-democracies, in both the US and the UK, to deal with the growing problem of the income, health and education gaps between the very very rich and the chronically poor. The failure of legislation to limit the growth in use of fossil fuels. The severe under-funding of research in renewable energy sources and incentives to apply them. The demand of the emerging economies for raw materials that we in the west have exploited them for in the past. The articles of faith that growth is good and we must always outperform our neighbours and even our friends.

Some thought provoking material on a blog post here .

Know any good tunes to whistle while Rome burns?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Who is Zenouska Mowatt?

You don't know who Zenouska Mowatt is? Shame on you! She is the 40th in the Windsor line of succession, the sequence of members of the Royal Family in the order in which they stand in line to the throne. Also, I find from Google, she has been mentioned in the pages of Hello magazine. No pictures, though.

Here are the top 40, from the Royal website:

1. The Prince of Wales
2. Prince William of Wales
3. Prince Henry of Wales
4. The Duke of York
5. Princess Beatrice of York
6. Princess Eugenie of York
7. The Earl of Wessex
8. Viscount Severn
9. The Lady Louise Windsor
10. The Princess Royal
11. Mr. Peter Phillips
12. Miss Zara Phillips
13. Viscount Linley
14. The Hon. Charles Armstrong-Jones
15. The Hon. Margarita Armstrong-Jones
16. The Lady Sarah Chatto
17. Master Samuel Chatto
18. Master Arthur Chatto
19. The Duke of Gloucester
20. Earl of Ulster
21. Lord Culloden
22. The Lady Davina Lewis
23. The Lady Rose Windsor
24. The Duke of Kent
25. The Lady Marina-Charlotte Windsor
26. The Lady Amelia Windsor
27. The Lady Helen Taylor
28. Master Columbus Taylor
29. Master Cassius Taylor
30. Miss Eloise Taylor
31. Miss Estella Taylor
32. The Lord Frederick Windsor
33. The Lady Gabriella Windsor
34. Princess Alexandra, the Hon. Lady Ogilvy
35. Mr. James Ogilvy
36. Master Alexander Ogilvy
37. Miss Flora Ogilvy
38. Miss Marina Ogilvy
39. Master Christian Mowatt
40. Miss Zenouska Mowatt

So in theory she could be our Queen Zenouska if enough unfortunate accidents were to happen further up the line. How do you feel about that?

For my part, I do not believe that this country will be truly democratic until we have an elected head of state, and the Royal Prerogative, at present wielded by the Prime Minister, is transferred to parliament.

Just now we are hearing a lot about the Democrat versus Republican contests in the USA. Here in the UK we can ignore their conservative/liberal labels and reflect on the fact that for us, every true democrat should be a republican!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Grammar and Uniforms

Coming home on the bus late yesterday evening, I found myself sitting in front of a young couple, probably in their early twenties, who were discussing aspects of her job. A writer's ears are always tuned to stray scraps of conversation for what ideas they may spark, and the subject here was grammar. They were clearly well educated to today's standards, but she was having difficulty helping some young children, in what context I don't know, with their writing. She was having to find out what terms like 'verb' and 'noun' meant, topics which had been entirely missing in her own formal English education. Her companion agreed that it was a problem, especially when trying to learn another language.

I didn't register any more of their conversation, because an idea had indeed been sparked for me, looking at education in a wider context.

We learned yesterday that some of our military personnel have been advised not to wear their uniforms in public, for fear of hostile reaction. Now I'm not a militarist and have never been in the armed forces. I was opposed to the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan wars, because I believed that not enough honest effort was put in to achieving peaceful solutions first. The arms lobby and jingoists were allowed their head, and the warning lessons from the past put forward by historians and diplomats were ignored or rejected. The Crusaders Bush and Blair, like their eleventh century predecessors, were getting their instructions directly from their personal gods.

However, there is an important difference between being opposed to war and insulting front-line warriors. These young men and women joined up for varying reasons - some because of family tradition, some because they believed that the defence of their families and country is a noble calling, and some quite simply because it was the only decent job available in our crazy lop-sided economy. And there are probably a few marginal psychopaths who slipped through the selection process as well - I would imagine every fighting force needs a few of those.

Once they joined up, they went through military training and came out of it prepared to do their job of defending their country. It was our Great Leaders who decided that the defence of the country was best achieved by waging war in the Middle East in a way which any historian of the area could have told them was doomed to failure. The soldiers, sailors and airmen (and that includes the valiant Michelle Goodman DFC and the other women in the forces) are doing what they are trained and paid to do, and doing it well. Would that our Great Leaders were doing theirs as well.

We are fortunate in the UK that we have Armed Forces which stay out of politics, unlike countries like Burma and Pakistan, and politicians who are wedded to a form of democracy. However, at some future date we may have a government which lurches to the right and decides to use the army rather than the police to keep the citizenry under control. We would, of course, expect the army to resist such an order, but what if the squaddies were finally disgusted with a population that clearly did not value them?

The lessons are clear - respect and support the members of our armed forces, intervene if we see them being harassed or insulted in public (before they take things into their own hands and flatten the idiots!), then get active at the next election and vote in a set of political representatives in tune with the real world. And to achieve this, we need an educated electorate who really understand what is being done in their names.

It would be good for them to know what verbs and nouns are, but even better to have a grasp of history for the last two thousand years, not in terms of the dates of kings and battles, but in terms of the growth of our many civilizations and the misunderstandings between them which have led to war. A Muslim cleric in Iraq was reported as saying at the time that the American invasion was imminent that 'we must not repeat the history of Andalucia'. I would like to think that all students entering our universities knew what he meant and why.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Gordon Brown, our omniscient leader

Or is he? Or does he know my mind better than I do? One of his favourite phrases is "everyone in Britain". Now I was born in Britain and have lived here most of my life, including the last thirty years, but nevertheless Gordon keeps telling me that "everyone in Britain" disagrees with me, for example over the recent brief visit of Harry Windsor to Afghanistan. I am not in the least "proud of him", despite Gordon Brown telling me I am. Rather, I am concerned for the lives and safety of all of our soldiers in Afghanistan, whether we should be there or not, and I know that they are performing bravely under extreme conditions. The Windsor visit, however well he performed personally in the role he was trained for, must have taken valuable time from the commanders of the real Army, landed with the chore of keeping a "royal" safe when he was not really needed there. It was either the selfish act of an over-privileged young man, or a last desperate propaganda exercise on behalf of the Windsors. Either way, Gordon Brown should realise that he doesn't know the minds of "everyone in Britain", and should start listening. However, there are none so deaf as those who will not hear.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Defining God

Just came across a post on the Everyday Spirituality blog, wondering what our relationship with God is in contemporary society. For my part, I remember the start of the opening poem in the Tao Te Ching

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.

Seems to me that many Theists, in desiring to "see" the mystery, become so confused that they have an enormous need to convince the rest of us that they have the answer!