Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Fire in a Mega Mall ...

Back in the days when I was still serving in the SA Fire and Emergency Services in Port Elizabeth, one of the major headaches for my team of Fire Safety Inspectors, was a huge shopping mall known as Greenacres Centre. It was fully sprinklered, had all the bells and whistles for smoke and fire control and was reasonably well managed. Since those days many things have changed, not least being that an already very large Mall (It was over 800 metres from one hypermarket at the east end, to the other at the west end with everything else in between  and not including the two hyperstores in that) was doubled in length.

Now you would think that the management of a place like that would ensure that everything, and I do mean everything, that protects it from fire would always be topline. You'd also think that if any part of it was non-operational for any reason, special precautions would be in place. You'd be wrong.

This was the scene yesterday morning as the largest of the now four hyperstores burned -

Talking to my friend the present Chief of the Fire and Emergency Service, I learned that the sprinkler system in this part of the Mall had been turned off for "Maintenance." It turns out it had been off for two weeks. Need I add that there is now a full scale police investigation into this fire ...

Frankly, the insurers should refuse to pay.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Awaiting the Winter ...

We are in the path of some Siberian weather at present. It will arrive in the next day or two, but as things stand the temperatures are alreay falling. The forecast says there won't be any snow - the air is too dry apparently.

Be that as it may, we're expecting temperatures down to minus 10* in our area and Berlin is threatened with minus 25*C. For my part - they can have it! It is also said that the really cold air will move aside next week and may bring moist air - which will turn to snow. We haven't had much this year, so we can't really complain if we get a bit now.

The weekend was busy, today was busy, but hopefullynrmal service can be resumed tomorrow ...

Friday, 27 January 2012

Holocaust Day

The horror of the Holocaust lives on. Six million Of Europe's Jewish people, some four hundred thousand gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses and others exterminated. Among those victims were many Christian priests and pastors who defied the regime, including Deitrich Bonhöffer, the Lutheran Theologian. Some five hundred thousand Russian PoWs also died of starvation, disease or in the attempt to escape. Nor should we forget the seventeen thousand Polish officers shot at Katyn by the Russians or the forty thousand Georgian soldiers exterminated by Stalin for fighting with the Germans to free themselves from the Communist yoke, or the many more millions who died under that regime before, during and after the war.

But today, we remember the concentration camp victims of 1939 - 1945 and remind ourselves of the dangers of any ideology based on hatred, greed or envy.

Lest we forget ...

Thursday, 26 January 2012

European Court of Human Rights ...

According to a report in the Frankfurter Algemeine, the daily newspaper Mausi reads and the Monk struggles through with dictionary in hand, carried an article today that claims Mr Cameron, the PM of the UK at present, is not alone in having serious reservations about this court's interference in "sovereign" affairs of member states. There are now a number of people becoming seriously concerned at the manner in which this court is being used to overturn matters which are reserved for EU Members sovereign Parliaments, or to interfere in the administration of justice.

Even, it is reported, the Bench of Judges in the ECHR are concerned and recognise that the problem lies in the constitution and remit of the court, not in the rulings, which, after all, must be framed within the parameters of their remit. It is now being seriously suggested that this court needs to be reconstituted and its remit made narrower so that conflicts cannot arise between the interests of the sovereign member states and the overall intent of the Convention on Human Rights.

Calls are being made from German, French, and other states for this to happen soon. All the member states are saddled, as is the UK, with people they know are criminals, but can't deport, because of rulings in the ECHR. There are other matters as well, like the "right" to vote being granted to prisoners serving sentences. This has caused more than a few Teutonic expletives in Germany. There are other examples as well, where a nation's legal system, or its right to govern in accordance with the wishes of the majority of that country, have been, and are being, challenged in the ECHR with the consequent loss of sovereignty for the nation concerned.

Mr Cameron was loudly mocked for his stance recently over Abu Qatada and the ECHR ruling, but it would seem he is not alone in Europe on this issue. Perhaps the Brussels Bureaucrats will get their act together and sort it out instead of meddling in other matters they have no right to.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

New Neighbours?

It appears that the State of Hessen is now home to a number of predators, animals moving in from the north and east. The country here is ideal for them since Hessen is the most forested State in Germany, a fact which surprises many people. Among the newcomers are Raccoons, known here as "Waschbären," one of which was photographed recently by one of Mausi's colleagues as it peered through his French Window and sized up his living room. It wasn't in the least bit phased by having its picture taken either.

According to today's newspaper though, we now have the European Lynx well established in the Aartal, the valley we overlook. And, if they're down there, they'll be up here as well ...

Around three times the size of a domestic cat, the lynx is a no nonsense predator and certainly not something to tangle with. It probably explains why most of the cats and dogs around here are staying indoors at night these days. 

We already had wild boar, fallow deer and red deer, so why not a few members of the small large cat family? Oh, and just to cap things off, Hessen is also now home to a growing wolf population. Thus far, however, they haven't reached us!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Champagne Socialism ...

A little item I spotted in the news feed yesterday had me almost speechless with fury. The news item concerned the revelation that a certain well known ex-Prime Minister and his good lady, a certain well known Human Rights campaigner and Barrister had paid their tax for 2010. A mere £315,000.

Now you may wonder why I saw red on this. Simples. The man earned a princely £12 million in the year ... Considering that he and his friends in Labour are constantly banging on about the Queen's income, or the Prince of Wales income and their voluntary tax arrangements (Either one pay considerably more voluntarily than he does on similar incomes!) his own tax evasion is a disgrace. How does he do it? Like most people who say one thing about the tax the rest of us must pay and do another - he uses "corporate" status to get away with a much lower tax rate and claim a plethora of "expenses" and "overheads" to wriggle out from under.

It must be said, so does that great organ of socialist propaganda, the Guardian. It's "Holding Company" is based offshore and pays token taxes in the UK. So next time the Guardian accuses one of the banks, or a wealthy individual of "tax evasion" let's just remember that the pot calling the saucepan black is only to distract us. One is as guilty as the other in this.

To add insult to injury, I have a small pension and a State Pension. Last year I earned an additional few hundred pounds - and got a tax bill from HMRC for a third of the extra money I'd earned. No allowance for the cost of the travel I had to do to get there to do the work, and no overnight expenses allowed either. I suppose someone has to pay off the national debt and for Mr Blair's handouts to the benefit dependents.

Obviously I have to earn in the same league as Mr Blair to qualify for a bit of tax relief ...

Monday, 23 January 2012


I hate bureaucracy and I particularly hate bureaucrats.

I have just wasted an entire morning trying to get someone in South Africa to see sense. They want documents from me that I cannot provide. Why do I need to beat these morons? Well, I suppose I could just throw in the towel and let the Old Mega Insurance keep the money, but the stubborn streak in me says I won't. I had a small pension plan there many years ago. I made it paid up when I left there 25 years ago. Now I want my money.

It's not as if I'm trying to take millions out. I'll leave that to the Zumas, Mugabes and Malemas of this world. What I have translates into about €2,000 - not a fortune by any manner of means. But I'd prefer it in my bank and not theirs!

The problem is they now have no record of my leaving SA or of my tax clearance. I provided an affidavit as instructed. Ah! Not good enough, the Commissioner of Oaths has only stamped the German side. You must have the English side stamped as well! Useless to point out that the said official is not likely to affix his stamp to the English version if he can't read it and be sure it says the same as the German version. Oh no! Ah, and you must provide proof you are not resident in SA! OK, so I provided, as instructed, proof of my tax status in the UK. No, not good enough, you must give us a letter from the HMRC to say you are registered there! What the blazes is a Tax Return and Statement of Tax then? Ah, but you could be secretly living in SA and just paying tax there. You must also provide us with a certificate from Germany that says you are permanently resident there.

No problem, here it is - in German. No! It must be in English! Go and get an English one ...

I struggle on. It's only taken 9 months to get this far ...

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Collapse of the Middle Class?

A discussion a few days ago, and some articles I have recently read, suggest that, while the wealthy continue to expand their wealth and their grip on the organs of power through their courting and funding of the political classes, the "middle income" group is rapidly being squeezed out of existence. They have been attacked in recent years by being priced out of the best schools and forced to accept the inadequate and often utterly incomprehensible "comprehensive" schooling imposed by the champagne socialist set of the political class. This means their kids are excluded from the networks developed at the best "fee paying" schools which are essential if they are ever going to get past the glass ceilings that exist in every business.

They are also excluded from the places at the top universities which they might once have gained, because the dice are now loaded in favour of "working class" children from lower income families. Once a Middle Class background meant stable home life, a home in a nice neighbourhood, a comfortable lifestyle, access to good education for your offspring and the expectation of a good standard of living for your kids. Not, it appears, any longer.

"Middle Income" earners have been treated for a long time now, as "rich" and there fore a target for milking through the tax system. That has eroded incomes and reduced, particularly at the lower end, the disposable income these folk enjoy. The reduction in "disposable income" has meant less to spend on helping the next generation, less to spend on leisure and an erosion of their lifestyles. At the same time many in the "Working Class" have found themselves earning incomes once considered "middle class" and some have even reached earnings levels well toward the upper end of that scale. They too find themselves caught in the income trap, of working ever harder just to hold their place or defend the lifestyle they aspire to. But there comes a point at which the strain begins to tell. The harder they work, the more hours they devote to earning enough to make up for the depradations of the tax system and the ever rising costs of housing, pension provision, health care, etc., the less time they have to actually enjoy it. The strains on marriages when two careers have to be catered for, increase the problems couples face in trying to build and maintain their relationships.

It used to be the case that "Middle Class" meant having a "white collar" career, someone in management, or one of the professions. This is no longer the case, now it is more a measure of income and even that is uncertain. The gap between those in the top earning bracket and those in the Middle Income group is rapidly becomeing a gulf. Very few Middle Income earners come anywhere near the upper end of the bracket and the vast bulk are struggling to stay where they are. As for their children - well, things don't look so good for them either, in fact they look depressingly as if these young people face having to accept a reduction in their living standard over their lifetimes.

Part of the problem is that the current economic system in western society rewards the very top of the organisations, the investors and those workers in the public sector protected by padded pensions (paid for out of taxes), job security that anyone outside of the civil service can only dream of, and those who know how to milk the benefit system. With the banks and the Boards of various supermarket chains paying their top management huge bonuses and six and seven figure salaries while paying minimum wages to everyone else, it becomes clear that there is a serious inequity developing. Professionals fare no better. A generation ago they would have expected to be earning more than their "administrators" but that has been eroded to the point where an engineer is often earning less than the office "manager" - yet the engineer is key to the trade of the organisation, while the "manager" is not.  Teachers, health professionals and other "professional" workers are suffering a similar decay of their status and earnings.

Considering the situation carefully suggests that the "Middle Class" is shrinking. Incomes are being eroded, and overtaken by "labouring trades." As the Postulant remarked recently, one partner stopping working or not working, is not an option for most "Middle Class" couples, they need both incomes just to keep afloat. Pregnancy can spell disaster for their finances.

I'm not sure what the answer is, or if there is one. I do know that somewhere along the way there is going to have to be a serious reconsideration of the way wealth is distributed and the way governments constantly, and of all flavours, favour their chums. In the meantime the rich will continue to get ever richer, and the aspirations of those not able to access those high-flying careers will continue to feel the squeeze ...

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Profit is a Human Right?

The news today is rather full of the group of American Hedge Funds investors who are suing the EU or the European Central Bank in the European Court claiming that the "rescue package" thrashed out for Greece, Italy, Spain and Porugal - among others - infringes their human right to maximise their profits. The reason is that the banks, presumably in which they have invested - are required, in the settlement, to carry 50% of the unsecured debts, the taxpayers of the EU are picking up the rest.

According to the litigants, this reduces their profits and thus infringes their "right" to destroy national economies and cause untold suffering in pursuit of their profits. The "greed is good" creed, it seems, overrides all other considerations. The fact is that this maximum profit concept arises from a US Supreme Court decision in the 1930s. Henry Ford wanted to slash the cost of his cars in order to make them more widely available. To do so he had to cut the company profit margins and thus reduce the dividends paid to his shareholders. Several, some on his Board of Directors, promptly sued him. The court ruled for the litigants, declaring that the sole purpose of any corporation was to maximise the profits to be shared by its shareholders ...

That decision has set the tone of "capitalism" ever since. Employees are no more than costs in the balance sheets, to be discarded when they become unprofitable, and paid as little as legally possible at all others. Only the respective "boards" and their senior managers actually enjoy any real prospect of reward, and the shareholders do no more than put their money into shares - often for very short periods - yet expect their investment to earn the highest possible return at the expense of those actually working for the company.

Now that sounds as if I'm arguing the socialist cause, but I'm not. I do recognise that many of these "hedge funds" are investing money on behalf of folk like me, who draw a pension paid, hopefully, from the income from investments. A reduction in the return on that investment affects the ability to continue to pay me. But there has to be a balance. A link recently sent me by the Postulant flagged up a serious abuse arising out of this "profit maximising" activity. According to a recent survey, executive pay in all the major supermarket chains is sky high. So are the profits shared with the shareholders. What's wrong with that, you may well ask.

Just this, three of the largest are paying their full time staff, packing shelves, manning tills and doing the "shop front" jobs, less than is necessary to live in the cities they work in. In London alone, the majority of these workers are also drawing Labour's "Working Credits" - a benefit intended to help the unemployed switch back into full time work without their incomes falling below what they were receiving in benefits. It seems that the Boards of the supermarkets saw a fabulous way to maximise their profit margins at the expense of the taxpayer. After all, why pay a worker more than you have to if the same worker can pick up a 'benefit' that tops up their pay. Secondly, by giving them minimum working hours, the same person can take on a second job. Winner for the Board - bonuses for the executive and maximum profit for the shareholders ...

I am a lifelong believer in minimal regulation and freedom to choose how, where and what I do with my life. Socialism is anathema to me, since in practice it empowers a very few, and pigeon holes and restricts everyone else. But the present face of Capitalism has to change, it has to be made more responsible and it has to ensure that those who generate the wealth for the shareholders, directors and executives get a fairer share of the cake.

Unfortunately, I can't see it happening without some pain. All I can hope for at the moment is that the Court will reject this present claim and case. The banks maximised their profits and are still playing havoc with peoples' lives and nations economies. They gamble on everything, from food and fuel, and currencies. They think nothing of speculating on things that are a matter of life and death to a majority, but only another source of profit to the trader. They have been bailed out, not just in Europe, but in the US as well, by the taxpayer. They still insist on paying obscene "bonuses" to the people who think nothing of destroying national economies by speculating against a currency, or forcing food and fuel prices through the roof speculating on reserves and stocks in transit. (How many people know that each tanker loaded with oil leaves its port of origin with only a 'concept' destination and that the cargo can change ownership four or five times during a voyage?)

Now, as Frau Merkel has said, it's time they showed some responsibility. It's payback time.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Evacuation Drills and reality ...

One thing that has struck me over the last few days, listening to the passangers and the various excited television and media "experts" pontificating on the Costa Concordia evacuation, is that, despite the complaints that it was "chaotic" - almost everyone got off. The Captain, his second and third officers seem to have managed it quite early, presumably leaving the crew and the First Officer, to cope with the rest. There is almost certainly a difference in perspective between those who are waiting to be evacuated, usually in a state of some anxiety, and those trying to manage the loading of boats and their successful launching. The difference in point of view can be a chasm, for from the point of view of those loading passengers as fast as they can into boats and making sure the unsteady, the panicky and the impatient don't fall, start a stampede or push someone overboard, it wasn't chaos, for those waiting, often unable to hear instructions, it was probably taking far too long.

What everyone forgets is that these evacuations are quite rare. Thankfully. The tests and drills are all done in harbour, usually with volunteers from the local University acting as the passengers. The ship is stable, the liferafts, escape chutes and boats are all behaving beautifully in the protected waters of the harbour. What nobody ever attempts to do in these trials is evacuate the full complement with the ship canted over and threatening to roll onto the lifeboats and rafts on one side, and making it extremely difficult to launch anything at all on the other. Add to that the fact that these passenger liners carry only enough boats and rafts for the number of people on board. There is no spare capacity, so if you lose a boat or raft, you already have a problem. Lose more than one and the problem starts to run away ...

I would suggest that, despite the Captain's dereliction of his duty, the remarkable thing is that they did actually achieve a near complete evacuation. Yes, there are a number of dead, but remember this ship was carrying 4,200 passengers and crew and all bar 37 were able to leave the ship safely. That in itself is quite an achievement. Had the weather beed bad, had they been unable to actually beach the vessel in her current position, the death toll would probably have been far higher than it is.

Josephus and I have, for more years than we care to admit, taught evacuation techniques and procedures for buildings. Josephus also trained people working on offshore platforms in evacuation drills. One thing we can both attest to is that evacuations seldom run perfectly and without a hitch - and that's on land. From an offshore platform, or a sinking ship in a seaway, and you are into a whole new ball game. On a ship, around one third of the people aboard are crew, but few of those are seamen, the largest proportion are Stewards, chefs, entertainers and 'housekeepers.' Though they have some training in emergency procedure, it hardly prepares them for the full impact of dealing with 3,000 very unhappy and excited passengers.

Those who have tried it will also know that clambering into an inflatable liferaft is not the easiest or the most comfortable thing to do in the sea. Think "Bouncy Castle" combined with it being erected on a lake and you begin to get the idea. These things behave a bit like a rollercoaster, crossed with a carousel.

I cannot escape the feeling that the passengers on this ship have been very, very lucky. Despite his other failures, the Captain did the most sensible thing - he rammed the ship onto the island as close as he could get to the shore. Then his crew seem to have managed, under circumstances I doubt any of them ever really expected to have to deal with, to get the vast majority of the passengers off. As I said in my previous post on this subject, and Josephus commented in another, these ships are only marginally stable. In a damaged state, they can quickly lose that margin. It's worth remembering that, had the ship been further out, there is a good chance far more people would have been lost.

Food for thought in a world driven by "cash flows" and "bottom lines." There are some costs you simply cannot ignore when it comes to choosing between safety and maximum profit ...

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Cruise Ship Design

When I was young, I thought of 'tender' as the description of a boat that serviced a ship.  The last tender I owned for a while was used on the annual raft race on the river Dee each April.  Those with experience of Aberdonian weather will realise that being in survival gear on the safety boat was preferable to riding a bed-frame and barrels in fancy dress!  That tender was named the "cow-pat" for the simple reason that it serviced a 32 foot Albin Express racing yacht by the name of "Aberdeen Angus".  In terms of the use of the names "ship" and "boat" this was the opposite end of the scale to HMS Nottingham's return home from Sydney in 2002 on board, and welded to the deck of, the heavy lifting vessel MV Swan.

It now transpires that a "tender ship" is actually a term for a design where the centre of mass is rather too close to the centre of bouyancy, resulting in a ship that is perfectly stable in good conditions, but is rather likely to respond to steering movements or heavy water with more roll that would be appreciated by passengers, especially those eating their soup!  Nautilus International spokesman Tony Minns told New Scientist about this in response to the Costa Concordia disaster recently:

The height of cruise ships is a problem, too, says Minns. “It is known in sea trials that these vessels are what we call ‘tender’ in stability terms – they are very stable but have a quick rate of roll when the rudder is moved a few degrees.” In other words, they are quite sensitive to being upset.

Is there a fundamental issue here where the profit motive is leading to the commissioning of vessels that are, in the worst possible way "fair weather sailors"?

I would welcome the sage words of the Monk here as his knowledge of such things goes beyond my mere dabbling and desultory interest.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012


An article in the Economist had me amused, this paragraph in particular made me chuckle:

A further reason to welcome them is that in many developed countries, as well as in China, falling birth rates have started to cause working populations to shrink and the number of elderly people to rise steeply, with ominous consequences for economies in general and pensions in particular. More working women could help offset the decline in the labour force.
Methinks the economists have missed something in their calculations: more women working = even lower birth rates = more anxiety about a shrinking working population in another generation’s time… how’s that going to work? Short-termist thinking wins again!

People get upset when it is pointed out that the "Benefit Mums" are having more children than anyone else, so not only is there a falling birth rate overall, but fewer potential workers are being born. The problem being that the child typically, follows the pattern of life set by the parent, so a parent who lives on benefit and has never seriously considered getting into gainful employment is likely to produce a new generation of benefit dependents ...

What’s really needed is for maternity policies for working mothers to be better than for those who are on benefits. Yes, I do recognise that there are 'costs' and 'burdens on business' here, but sensible policies would actually reduce the impact, not increase it People generally complain about supplementing working parents (“they choose to have kids!”) while forgetting that the resultant sprogs will pay into everyone’s pensions – if they see their parents often enough to learn some kind of work ethic from them. As more and more couples are forced to work full-time and commute further and further, they have less and less influence over their childrens’ values.

As usual, the economists have studied the "bottom line" and reached a conclusion, but I think, in doing so, they've completely missed the larger picture. There's an elephant in the room here, and, probably because they're stood with their backs to it admiring the view from the window - they can't see it.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

National Credit Ratings ...

Does anyone else wonder about the politics behind the "Ratings" made by these Rating Agencies - all of them, I note, based in the US. Down rating Greece I can understand, but there is a serious side effect to this which I suspect most people miss. When a nation's credit rating falls, the interest its creditors charge for their loans to the national Treasury go up.

The rating is lowered because the country is struggling to pay its debts - so the bankers charge them more money on the loans, making it more difficult to pay. This is what is called Loan Sharking in the world inhabited by the individual. My bank refuses me credit, so I'm forced to go to a Loan Shark to get the money I need for some (Hopefully seriously important) expense I must meet and not just another luxury splurge. From the bank I might have had to pay a loan interest rate of - say - 10%, but the loan shark charges 30% per month. So my thousand pound loan will now cost me 3,600 plus the original 1,000 if I pay it back inside twelve months instead of a smaller 1,100 at the bank. Doesn't sound like much, until you ask the question, why was my rating low to begin with. Simple, I already had a number of large debts, so I had a poor credit rating, which in turns means I was already paying off a large amount of interest each month and now the Loan Shark doubles it ...

There is this thought about these National Ratings running through my head, that suggests the change may have both a political and a profit motive. First, all Western currencies are under pressure at the moment, and all for similar reasons, hand-outs exceed tax revenue, so they've borrowed to the hilt to meet their expenses. All ten of the nations now hit with lower ratings are in the €urozone, so this hits the €uro, driving its value down and presumably driving others up. That is further exacerbated by the down grading of the "Rescue Package" set up to underpin some of the economies now down graded. Who benefits? As the saying is, "Follow the money." Standard and Poor's are based in the US, managed by bankers in the US. Devaluing the €uro improves the value of the US$ without having to do much more than change a few numbers and letters in the international banking network of computers feeding the markets. That's the political aspect.

There is a more serious financial one. All these countries now face an increase in interest charges against their loans. Who wins on that one? Ah, the lenders of course, who also happen to be the same people who set up companies like Standard and Poor's in the first place. So now the countries face not only swinging loan redemption payments, but some pretty swinging increases in interest payments as well. If the austerity measures weren't hurting the populations of those countries before, watch them bite now!

As the spokesman for Standard and Poor's said, no one outside their organisation could possibly understand the manner in which they make the calculations which result in the ratings, but he then added that they were "100% accurate, no, make that 150%."

Is it just me, or does the spokesman really not understand that you cannot have 150% of anything? If he doesn't understand that small fact, how much reliance can we place on his "calculations?"

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Responding to Josephus ...

Josephus is right when he says I might wish to comment, I certainly do. Let me begin by saying that he is in a far better position to know the politics and the drivers which may or may not lead people in Scotland to vote "Yay" or "Nay" on this issue. I would also say that I think both nations will be the poorer for the break should Scotland decide to "go it alone." That said, I am of the camp that believes that Scotland is unlikely to survive as an "independent" economy. Denmark is a different case, one which possesses extensive overseas terrotories and assets, a fact often not visible in the UK. It is often forgotten that Greenland, the Faroes (and if you want to split hairs, the Shetlands) are Danish dependencies and the oil and gas fields off Greenland are huge. The country also possesses fields in the North Sea.

Contrary to the media misinformation, the Maritime Border between the England and Scotland does comply with international treaties and the fields lying to the East and South of it are in the English part. The revenues from these fields have been shared across the UK, but a division would see Scotland entitled only to those fields that lie in the Northern and Western areas.

Removing the RN and the RAF from Scotland (Faslane, Rosyth and Pitreavie) would remove between 15,000 and 18,000 jobs, but that is not the whole picture. At present several major warships are being built in Scottish Yards. These would also close and be moved and we can be certain that the Defence Establishment is already planning for this. As to how many jobs would be lost with those closures I can only guess.

Then there is the banking crisis, with the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Bank of Scotland (BoS or now HBOS), having been forced on English Banks to save them. Westminster owns shares in the part nationalised Banks Blair (a Scotsman posing as MP for an English constituency and Brown, a Scottish MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer responsible for the fiscal mess the UK economy is now in!) which raises the question of who would continue to bail out these banks? Tam Dalyel's "West Lothian Question" was one reason successive goverments refused to address the question of an Edinburgh Parliament. The mess Blair and his people created in tinkering with a Constitution they patently failed to understand at all, has raised some very tricky questions and is likely to result in some very acrymonious exhanges at the very least.

Josephus asks, why should Cameron demand the right to set the timetable, and as I understand it, the question, for this referendum ? I would answer that Mr Salmand does not have, under the current dispensation, the authority to refuse it. He is seeking to hold it on a date which is emotionally charged and favours his cause. In this he is trying to hold the rest of the UK to ransom. As Scotland is currently a part of the political and economic union that is the "United Kingdom" it is, whether it likes it or not, subject on constitutional matters, defence, economy and foreign affairs, subject to Westminster and not an independent entity in its own right.

Ironically, the demands from Scotland for independence are raising a reaction in England, one Blair could have avoided if he had not been intent on dividing England up into "Regions" which would have guaranteed a Labour control of large parts of it. Giving England a Parliament to deal with purely English matters, not controlled by Labour's Welsh and Scottish duplicates (Both nations now having their own "local" government) which allows some 75 Scottish MPs and around 30 Welsh ones to vote on law affecting England only has caused enormous resentment. So the West Lothian Question has now come home to bite.

Cromwell did enormous damage to relationships between England and Scotland and between England and Ireland as Josephus correctly points out. Ironic therefore that Blair, a Scot, thought he was the greatest Parliamentarian. One wonders exactly what he meant - or did he not know the real history? He was certainly ignorant of almost everything else of our history. As Josephus has said, it was a long time ago, but it is remembered. What is not remembered is the reason Scotland had to beg for Union in the first place. The "Darian Adventure" and one or two other "speculative ventures" embarked on with their Treasury had bankrupted the nation and the price England placed on bailing them out was Union. Blair and Co broke that Union, despite all the warnings, and now Cameron must deal with the result.

Alex Salmand may want to hang on for 2014 but I suspect he may not be allowed to. I am also suspicious of his motives. Josephus advances the idea that it is the 700th anniversary of the Bruce's victory over Edward II's army, but I suspect its so he can see who is in power after the next UK election, perhaps also seeking to run a campaign in conjunction with new elections for the Scottish Parliament.

As I said at the outset, I cannot see anything good for either nation in this. According to the financial papers I have read recently inward investment into Scotland is now stalling and a number of others are exploring what moving or relocation would involve. A large percentage of the Scottish Budget comes from Westminster with a higher per capita "tax spend allocation" in Scotland than in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, much of that is not raised in Scotland and will not be "made up" from the speculated "oil and gas revenue"  the public think they will get by redrawing borders, primarily since the borders will not change.

We will have to wait and see.

Friday, 13 January 2012

"Scots Wha Hae"

The West Lothian Question:

The question of Scottish MPs voting on purely English matters has a long history.  It was brought up and named anew in 1977 by MP for West Lothian Tam Dalyell.  Currently, the question is rather the opposite; should David Cameron, speaking as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom try to force the parliament and people of Scotland into compliance with his timescale in respect of a referendum for independence?

Firstly, the same Mr Cameron did not particularly like Frau Merkel and Monsieur Sarkozy telling the UK to bow to the whim of the EU, why then should he expect the First Minister of Scotland to bow to the voice of Westminster?  The parallel appears quite obvious to my thinking.  Secondly, as soon as the Scottish Nationalist Party gained an elected mandate as a majority government, this referendum was going to happen; win or lose, the SNP has always had a policy of striving for independence and a referendum has long been the tool of choice to be used when the time is right.

Can Scotland survive outwith the United Kingdom?  (Notice a little Scots colloquialism there...)  If Denmark can exist independently, then there is every expectation that Scotland can, however, it is almost certain that they would need to be part of the EU, that, in turn, raises the question of their currency; maintain Sterling, or join the Euro?  Can the United Kingdom survive without Scotland?  Well, I am certain that the Monk would wish to comment here, but my personal view is that the UK defence discussions would be, how shall I say, interesting.  The Scots have traditionally provided much of the military personnel, which would in all probability suggest that Scotland could maintain a reasonable defence force for itself, but what of the hardware?  How would (what is left of...) the Royal Navy fare without Faslane and Rosyth?  How would Coastal Command of the Royal Air Force manage without Pitreavie?  Lossiemouth is probably closing, so that is less of a loss.  Oh, yes!  I almost forgot, the Greenham Common protesters would have been much better picketing a certain ammunition dump just north of Carlisle, that is most probably where the cruise missiles are at this moment, and have been for most of their time.  The weather isn't as nice as Berkshire though.  Incidentally, when I said "north of Carlisle", did I omit to mention that Longtown is actually over the border in Scotland?  Food for thought.

Will the Scots vote for independence?  Well, there are just a shade over 5 million people in Scotland.  Not all are native Scots and apparently birthright may be the qualifying requirement.  Well, Glasgow has around 600,000 and Edinburgh 500,000, so there are about 4 million Scots who do not live in Glasgow or Edinburgh, although I will admit that the vast bulk of them are in the central belt between the two cities.  The Urban Scots will largely support the Nationalist agenda, we cannot say if that will translate into votes, but in general, they will support it.  It is estimated that the Gaeltach, for the most part, has hardly been part of the UK at any time, the ancient 'Highlands' still hold large populations that would regard remote rule from Edinburgh as worse than remote rule from Westminster.  The good citizens of Aberdeen would be equally sceptical of remote rule by either Edinburgh or Glasgow, whereas the citizens of each and both of those great cities would declare civil war before agreeing to the power lying with either, unless it is their city, despite the presence of the Scottish parliament in E'burg.  In short (tl;dr) I don't think it will happen, although I hope the vote takes place.

Now for the important question:  what will the UK flag look like if Scotland leaves?  The blue will, of course, disappear.  The Welsh will get back the half of St David's cross that is overlain with half of St Andrew's white cross at the moment.  But how will one either signal distress or moan at the ignorance of various people when the flag is flown inverted?  It would be impossible to tell!  there are additional Commonwealth issues; many of the flags of Commonwealth nations carry a quartered Union Flag, they will, or will they, be required to change.

The Braveheart tendency, "Scot's wha hae wi' Wallace bled" are probably not a majority, however, as a nation the Scots are justifiably proud of their land and heritage and it must be remembered that it was Cromwell's troops that finished off the job that centuries of conflict, Bishops, Kings and treaties had always managed to 'half do', and Cromwell had a habit of rather irritating people that he subdued, however, it was all a long time ago.  That is why 2014 is Alex Salmond's ideal date, the 700th anniversary of the battle referred to in "Flower of Scotland". (written in 1968 by "The Corries".)  It began in Lent, 1314 when The brother of the King, Edward Bruce, laid siege to Stirling Castle, held by an English garrison.  King Edward II rather resented this and sent "a few chaps" to sort this little pesky jumped up Robert de Bruce so-called King, nothing but a jumped up tribal chieftan...  However on 23rd and 24th of June, as the song says, the Scots army led by the Bruce "sent them homewards, tae think again."  A well ordered defensive force was able to rout a much larger, but poorly led army.  As Billy Connolly will always say if he recounts this great victory, "Aye, and they cam back and gi'ed us a right skelpin' later."  However, the memory is strong, it will be 1314 for all of the right reasons, the Scots will not be pushed into a rush job.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Allow me to introduce myself.  The pseudonym Josephus was chosen carefully as the original man was something of an adapter, he shaped himself and his ideas to circumstances.  I have been a friend and colleague of the Monk for nearly 20 years and have debated many of the issues written about here over the years.  Often we agree, frequently we have different perspectives on a common theme and occasionally we vehemently disagree.  That is how debate between intelligent people should be.

Some information on the original Josephus:

Josephus was a priest, a soldier, and a scholar.  He is famous for being the most credible secular historian to record the existence of Jesus Christ outside of the New Testament.

        He was born Joseph ben Mattathias in Jerusalem in 37 CE/AD, a few years after the time of Jesus, during the time of the Roman occupation of the Jewish homeland. In his early twenties he was sent to Rome to negotiate the release of several priests held hostage by Emperor Nero. When he returned home after completing his mission he found the nation beginning a revolution against the Romans.

Despite his foreboding that the cause was hopeless, he was drafted into becoming commander of the revolutionary forces in Galilee, where he spent more time controlling internal factions than  fighting the Roman army. When the city of Jotapata he was defending fell to the Roman general Vespasian, Josephus and his supporters hid in a cave and entered into a suicide pact, which Josephus oddly survived.

    Taken prisoner by Vespasian, Josephus presented himself as a prophet. Noting that the war had been propelled by an ancient oracle that foretold a world ruler would arise from Judaea, Josephus asserted that this referred to Vespasian, who was destined to become Emperor of Rome. Intrigued, Vespasian spared his life. When this prophecy came true, and Vespasian became Emperor, he rewarded Josephus handsomely, freeing him from his chains and eventually adopting him into his family, the Flavians. Josephus thus became Flavius Josephus.

     During the remainder of the war, Josephus assisted the Roman commander Titus, Vespasian's son, with understanding the Jewish nation and in negotiating with the revolutionaries. Called a traitor, he was unable to persuade the defenders of Jerusalem to surrender to the Roman siege, and instead became a witness to the destruction of the city and the Holy Temple.

      Living at the Flavian court in Rome, Josephus undertook to write a history of the war he had witnessed. The work, while apparently factually correct, also served to flatter his patron and to warn other provinces against the folly of opposing the Romans. He first wrote in his native language of Aramaic, then with assistance translated it into Greek (the most-used language of the Empire). It was published a few years after the end of the war, in about 78 CE. He was about 40 years old.

 Josephus subsequently improved his language skills and undertook a massive work in Greek explaining the history of the Jews to the general non-Jewish audience. He emphasized that the Jewish culture and Bible were older than any other then existing, hence called his work the Jewish Antiquities. Approximately half the work is a rephrasing of the Hebrew Bible, while much of the rest draws on previous historians. This work was published in 93 or 94 CE, when he was about 56 years old.

 In Rome, in the year 93, Josephus published his lengthy history of the Jews. While discussing the period in which the Jews of Judaea were governed by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, Josephus included the following account:
 About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.  - Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3. 63 (Based on the translation of Louis H. Feldman, The Loeb Classical Library.)
 (Thanks to the Reluctant-Messenger for details.)

I well remember the  thrill when visiting the "Timmer Merkat" in the Castlegate, Aberdeen one Friday in the 1980s.  I saw a thick, hand-bound book on a small folding book-press, pasting on my best poker face and breathing deeply I approached the stall and in a manner that would make David Barbie appear a soft touch beat the stall-holder down to £2.50.  My excitement was palpable, if I had identified the volume from 25 yards away, it must have been quite a book.  Clutching my new copy of  Whiston's "Wars and Antiquities of the Jews" I took the bus home rather earlier than I would usually have done.

Technical Detail:
The reluctant messenger, the source for my biography above, chooses to use the time frame 'CE' i.e. current era.  I chose, on first use, to add 'AD' i.e. Anno Domini; in the year of our Lord.  I do not find these terms in any way antagonistic.  I was brought up with 'AD' and it makes sense to me in the way that feet and inches do, however, as the Monk discussed recently, pinning the birth of Christ to a precise year is almost impossible, notwithstanding the Julian / Gregorian date changes of 1582, when at least we do know the date and author (Gregory XIII) almost the only certain statement we can make is that Christ was not born on Christmas day, year zero.  The term CE is therefore technically an exact dating system using the generally acknowledged date of AD, but not being open to the frequent criticisms.  If anyone feels uncomfortable about that, then I shall follow the lead of my mentor and do as Flavius Josephus would have done.

This post is dated; 16th Tevet, 5772

Welcome Josephus ...

The Gray Monk and Mausi are joined at the Scriptorium by Josephus, a former colleague and friend of the Monk. Look out for posts from him in the future, the Monk can assure readers they will be extremely informative and interesting.

The Monk is away ...

The Monk is in the UK for the next couple of days, so posting may be a little on the "light" side unless he can get connected ...

He's teaching on a course, in case anyone is interested and returns home on Friday evening.

So, now you know ...

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

NHS Reforms ...

Right, I'll be straight up and honest. I'm not a fan of the NHS in its present form. It is, at best, the result of a series of ideological ambitions, with which I do have some sympathy, and a whole slew of compromises which have had to be made at various times to bring or keep people on board, to satisfy some vested interests and of course, the political meddlers who simply can't keep their noses out of things. Largely speaking, it works. It delivers health care and it does so reasonably well for the most part, though, here and there, it is a lottery when it comes to certain treatments and medications.

One of the reasons I do believe it needs root and branch reform is not because I want to see it broken up and privatised. What I want is less political interference, less spent on the massive administration and plethora of clerical posts that all detract from the delivery of medical care in one way or another, and far, far less central direction of the manner in which a doctor treats a patient.

The taxpayer puts in an enormous amount of money to the NHS, yet the hospitals are in a shocking state, cleaning being one "service" "contracted out" according to the bureaucrats to "free medical staff to deal with medical matters." And there lies the problem. The opinion of the medical staff - and often their wishes - are ignored by the "managers" who actually run the hospitals. As I have said many times, "management" is a function of every job, task and profession, and no one can "manage" a professional function if they are, themselves, not members of that profession.

All of that said, The Postulant has provided me with a very thought provoking article. It is on a blog called "A Better NHS" - something even I would wish to see. In a series of questions and answers regarding the current government's draft legislation for reform, the writer provides some very interesting and valuable arguments. Despite what I said in my opening paragraphs, I do believe this article is correct. The NHS can be improved, but David Cameron's plans are not the right way to do so. While this may satisfy the Treasury and its ambitions to sell off every service the government provides, and will certainly make the shareholders and the Boards of various companies such as Capita dance for joy, it probably won't make a better NHS.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Information disinformation ...

Something said by a friend recently about the "Connected Generation" (Generation Z in education/social classifications) having an attention span of no more than 140 characters in reading length, got me thinking. A little digging around how some of the great myths of the late 20th early 21st Century have spread and become the new "truths" suggests that it is down to the use (or abuse) of modern electronic media to a large degree and to the lack of desire to check facts among a large part of the receiving population on the other.

The "tl;dr" (Too long; didn't read - for those not used to "txt spk") response kicks in as soon as someone does want to check facts and discovers that the reality is a lot more complex than the 'abridged' version they found on Twitter, FaceBook or one of the many newspaper feeds. The "big" story in the news here in Germany is the Bundes President's private financial arrangements. Listening to the various self-righteous politicians, media spokesmen and others you would think that having taken out a private loan from a friend to buy a house was a hanging offence. Yes, he shouldn't have gone that route, but there seems to have been 'lost' in the reporting of it, the fact that he needed a quick decision and the bank was dragging its feet. OK, there are other questions, such as holidays with friends and some arguments with various Media heads which also emerged, but again, we seem to hear only the self-righteous versions from those now squealing about how they were "abused" in this. There is always a great deal of filtering in any reportage in the Media, but when you add in the "secret" agenda of the reporter and the bias of the agency he/she works for, you get a very selective presentation of the facts.

Freedom of the information supply via the media is a vital part of any democracy, but so is accuracy of reporting and that flows across to all other information streams. Vast amounts of "disinformation" and blatant untruth is now swirling around the internet. Very few of those reading it on a daily basis actually check the veracity of it. I'm glad to say that The Postulant is one who regularly uses Snopes (and I have to thank her for pointing me at it) to verify material she gets forwarded to her. I wish others were as careful.

Sadly the disinformation-information becomes the new truth is also affecting academic circles. I have recently read several books which identify the origins of some of the anti-religion propaganda as 19th Century sources. When these are examined, they turn out to be "spin" - quite a bit of it refuted at the time, but which, because it is quoted by Bertrand Russel, Aldous Huxley or some other "thinker" of the 20th Century is now "fact" - yet a lot of this is pure invention. One particular example that annoys me is the statement that "the church" taught that the world was flat. This turns out to be based on a statement made by a "scientist" from the early 19th Century who based his assumption on his interpretation of the Mappa Mundi. The "Mappa" - a popular 14th -15th Century representation of the "Spiritual" connections of the places of pilgrimage and special holiness, was based on the known lands of the people making the map and placed Jerusalem at its centre - for the obvious reason that it is the heart of Christianity. Officially the church has always followed the Ptolemaic and Aristotelian understanding of the world as a sphere - the question for Europe was always what lay over the ocean in terms of lands and peoples. Columbus' journey ad route were chosen because his talking to fishermen who regularly ventured beyond the horizon, suggested that it might lead to the "East" from which Europe was cut off by the Muslim Empires in Turkey and Persia.

John Cabot set out from Bristol in the "Mathew" (A replica of his ship is to be seen and visited in the port there) armed with maps and information from the fishermen who regularly fished the Grand Banks and sometimes over wintered in Nova Scotia and the American East Coast. But all of this is swept aside by the repetition of the late Victorian anti-church factions who invented the flat earth story to promote their own "superior" reasoning.

Sadly the modern media and the speed of "information" transfer simply aids these and other myths in their spread and acceptance as "truth" by those to gullible or to ignorant to seek further and check.

Ah well, this post has already reached far beyond the limits of tl;dr ...

Saturday, 7 January 2012

David the King?

Picking up from my articles of the last couple of days, I was reminded of the new controversy surrounding King David and his successor, Solomon. This was covered in an article in the National Geographic in which they discussed the argument between a small group of atheist Jews (Yes, there are some) who are determinedly rewriting everything their predecessors and quite a number of the contemporaries have done to uncover Israels past and the history of the Jewish nation. This is a major challenge even without the "nay sayers" rewriting everything.

One reason is that much of the archeology which supports the Jewish accounts - most contained in the Old Testament - lie in land controlled by Muslim governments. A second reason is that, in the course of the history of this region, things have been torn down, rebuilt, destroyed, buried and built over during the last 2,500 years, starting with the Babylonians, the Assyrians and on through Alexander the Great, the Romans and eventually the Arabs, the Crusaders and the Turks. Nearly all of them intent on erasing everything about the Jews for one reason or another. All the Jewish records that survived the Hellenic invaders and the Maccabean revolt were finally destroyed by the Roman Army in 70 - 73AD.

So, one can understand the frustration of one of Israels leading archeologists when she is forced to confront one of her own students who is telling tourists that everything she has written or uncovered in her life's work - is rubbish. The problem is in the dating. The chief anti-Bible archeologist is a Dr Finkelstein who has redated everything his companions found, asserting it is all at least 100 years younger than David or Solomon. He is following the common tactic of so many in the anti-religion camp - cast doubt on the source book, and you undermine everything else. By calling into question the status of King David, he calls into question all claim Israel has to an illustrious history. All Jews look back to the Kingdom of David and Solomon as the Golden Age of their people and it is the fact that the only comprehensive record of this is in the Bible that annoys the likes of Finkelstein. He and his supporters want to pull the rug out from under the Orthodox Jewish community - so they attack the root of their faith. The encyclopedia gives the following on David ...
His life is conventionally dated to c. 1040–970 BC, his reign over Judah c. 1010–1003 BC, and his reign over the United Kingdom of Israel c. 1003–970 BC. The Books of Samuel, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles are the only sources of information on David, although the Tel Dan stele records the existence in the mid-9th century of a Judean royal dynasty called the "House of David". David's life is very important to JewishChristian and Islamic culture. In Judaism, David, or David HaMelekh, is the King of Israel, and the Jewish people. Jewish tradition maintains that a direct descendant of David will be the Messiah. In Islam, he is known as Dawud, considered to be a prophet and the king of a nation.
The dating is supported, but the argument revolves, as the article in the National Geographic suggests, around the status of the "king" - was he a jumped up hill tribe chief, or something more? Finkelstein and his faction can't get rid of the Stele, it is far too well known and far to authentic, so now they play with the dating.

One has to recognise, as any true Biblical scholar will tell you, that the books of Chronicles, Kings and Samuel are fragments reassembled after the Babylonian exile. The original Court Records of Israel and Judah having been destroyed by the conquerors as was the custom in those days. The books are the remembered records and may not be entirely accurate, but they are a record.

It can only be hoped that the Finkelsteins of this world will, eventually, be exposed and discredited. Until then the likes of Dr Mazar and her supporters must continue fighting. More than just some dusty ruins and shards of pottery depend upon it.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Twelfth Day of Christmas - Epiphany

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, the day the "Wise Men" arrived in Bethlehem after, presumably, a two year journey. There are, of course, some arguments about the date of Jesus' birth, but you need to remember that the monk who worked out the dating didn't use a scientific method, or even an archeological one. He worked some 600 - 700 years after the events and his method was, by modern standards, rather crude. It certainly wasn't helped by confusion over names and dates of reigns.

Herod the Great died in 4 BC. We know that now, but the monk didn't. Luke apparently got Herod the Great and Herod Agrippa mixed up and may even have got Herod Archelaus into the mix. Remember that Luke was Greek and used a different dating system to Matthew, a Jew using the traditional Jewish calendar. Luke was also collecting his information for his Gospel some 20 years after the crucifixion and we have all had experience of talking to our grandparents about family history. It goes along the lines of "now it would have been 1941 or maybe 1942 - it was the year that Grace fell out of the tree. That was 1937 dear ..." Matthew had the advantage of having lived and walked with Christ, so his dates are probably more reliable.

That said, if we accept the fact that it was Herod the Great that ordered the killing of children in Bethlehem , our calendar is out by about 6 years. In other words we are now living in 2018 if we really want to be that accurate. The old monk did a pretty good job working on the ages of people when they died who were known to have been taught by people, taught by people, taught etc., right back to the Apostles and Jesus himself. To get to within six years by that method was pretty good. Other items mentioned in the Gospel accounts also point to 6BC being the correct date, since there were a number of major astrological events in that and the years immediately following.

Tradition has it that the three "Magi" were one from Europe, one from "the East" and one from Africa and the names ascribed to them around 1000 AD reflect that. Their significance is that they represented people outside the Jewish nations and tribes. In other words, they were the first "sign" that Christ was for all peoples and nations and not just for Israel and Judea. Having called on Herod according to the accounts of their visit, they found their way to Bethlehem and there they found Jesus and his parents. They "returned home another way" after a warning that Herod planned skulduggery and then we hit the next question mark on the Gospel account.

Why would Herod order the slaughter of all boys between newborn and two? The simple answer is, of course, that he was "playing safe" but there is a further complication. There is no record of such a slaughter being ordered in Bethlehem and Herod himself died in 4 BC. The Holy Family would not have been living in the stable for two years and there is no suggestion in the Gospels that they were when the Magi arrived. So what actually happened?

A recent archeological find turned up a mass grave of children's skeletons. Could this be the result of the slaughter? Quite possibly, the skeletons and the grave are of the right age and period, though it is difficult to date children's skeletal remains after so long accurately. There is also a suggestion that a plague may have been the agency of death - but then why only children and only in this place? Just to throw in another wobbly, the Governor of Syria named by Luke actually held this office from 10 - 14AD, but he was present for the exile of Herod Archelaus in 4 BC and probably organised a census then as Judea was made a "Province" of Rome under the Governorship of Syria. Enter the Roman Governors and the progression that brought Pontius Pilatus to Jerusalem in the period covering the crucifixion.

Why would Herod have been afraid of a "carpenter's son" (especially one about whom rumour no doubt already questioned his parentage) unless there was a strong possibility of a legitimate claim to the throne Herod occupied? We know that Joseph was a descendent of David, but that, in itself, hardly made Jesus a legitimate possible heir. It is much more likely, and a careful consideration of later clues in the narrative, that Joseph was a man of means, well connected among the Jewish nobility and therefore a threat to the usurper Herod and his heirs. Herod certainly had no scruples in murdering his wife's (He had inherited the throne through her) relatives, getting rid of several far more legitimate claimants to his throne, including his wife's brothers, several cousins and an uncle. It's quite possible that the "slaughter of the innocents" in Bethlehem was limited to certain families standing a little too close for Herod's comfort to the throne.

The gospel writers are being careful, remember they are writing in an environment when making a statement that might offend someone powerful could get you crucified, so the allusion is broadened and the blame moved safely to the now long dead tyrant. One thing is clear. The birth had taken place within two years of the arrival of the Magi. Nor did Joseph hang about. And here we have another small clue to his connections - a "flight" into Egypt was an expensive trip, not something any mere peasant could even contemplate.

Does this change the way I see Jesus, the Magi or my faith? No, all it does do is underscore the need to understand the background and to enjoy the tradition, will seeking the reality. Faith, to be strong, needs to recognise reality and to see how the realities around those who wrote the Gospels, wrote the letters and compiled the Biblical canon shaped and directed their writing and their actions.

The Magi have been and are now on their way home - and Joseph has Mary and the child Jesus probably heading for Joppa and a ship to Egypt! Welcome the Magi, because they are you and I.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Life Choice?

There are definitely times when I despair for Christianity and the debate surrounding some of the candidacy for the US Presidential race is raising that specter again. Once again it is idiots whipping up a storm about "Gays" and "gay Rights," and once again they are reaching for their Bibles and their narrow interpretations of it to support their crusades. Fundamentalists of all religions tend to do untold harm to both the message of a faith and to those who try to follow it honestly and prayerfully. The extremists, though, always manage to steal the limelight and cloak themselves in the fable - at least in many media reports - as "the one true interpreter" of that Faith.

I was reminded of this when I read this report in the Guardian (NOT my usual paper!) I find myself, once again, wishing I could take the book they so abuse and bash it into their heads until they get to understand it. It seems that once again, the focus of the "conservatives" (I've always considered myself to be one, but now I'm not so sure!) is on lifestyles, specifically, those now labelled "Gay." Yes, there are three clear references to this in the Old Testament and a possible one or two (If you really stretch the imagination!) in the New. Once more all the Fundamentalists - those who want to "interpret" everything literally in the Bible are up in arms and claiming, yet again, that the choice of lifestyle is - choice! They refuse to accept the plethora of medical evidence to the contrary and continue to shout and scream about people in this category being "evil." It makes me want to foam at the mouth and bite someone in the hope I'll give them rabies!

First of all, the Bible is NOT one book, it is a library all on its own. All of the books in it were written at different times and in many different languages. Not all of it is "history" and will someone please, please, please, tell the American Fundamentalist sects that it was not written in English! Nor was most of it written in Hebrew! The original books were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and possible even in Persian in places. The modern Bible as we have it is a translation of, for the Old Testament, the Hebrew canon known as the Talmud for the King James Version (Which came from Babylon/Persia) and the Hellenic Greek version known as the Septuagint for the Vulgate version used by the Early Church and by the Roman Catholics and Lutherans. Until the invention of the printing press and movable type, it had to be copied by hand and, inevitably, mistakes were made by copyists. Eventually, in around 1500, it was agreed that there should be one "Authorised" text and hundreds of copies were examined to find the most reliable - and those became the text we have now.

The KJV (Published in 1611) drew on a completely new set of sources. The Talmud for the Old and the most reliable copies they could find of the originals for the New. This is why the KJV has fewer books in it than the Vulgate.

Right, that's the history out of the way, now to "interpretation."

You cannot interpret or understand the text of this collection without knowing what you are looking at and what it represents. Nor can you understand it outside of the setting of the book you are reading. In other words, the background is important. Why? Put simply, because the writers of the Biblical Books didn't write down all the background details, just the important bits - so they left out everything the reader was expected to "know." Why? Remember, paper wasn't easily come by, they wrote on papyrus which came from Egypt, or on hides, which had to be prepared and cost an arm and a leg. So you didn't waste space with details your reader should know. Except that they didn't consider the idiots who would read it 2,500 years later, insist that it should be read literally, in a different language and with a totally different understanding of the culture and events it is describing.

Modern readers also fail to understand that Genesis is an "Epic" rather like a Norse Saga, it has elements of fact in it but it is presented as a collection of folk memories and poetic explanations for an agrarian society. It is not a scientific treatise! Nor is it a "factual" "history." Daniel, Job, Ruth and Esther are "stories," and written to render theological argument and discussion accessible to the writers audience - again, probably never expecting it to be read and interpreted in a different culture 2,000 years on! The Psalms are poems and prayers, again, written at different times and in different places and circumstances - and certainly NOT all written by King David. Please people - learn the background history!

The Bible certainly does, in Leviticus, condemn same sex acts. But elsewhere there are suggestions that several of the characters in it were, if not actively engaging in those acts, at least in 'partnerships' with others of their sex. You cannot read these things literally. Christianity as a whole condemns the act, not the person, though, at the moment, with all the scandal of abuse in the Roman Church, there is a tendency toward both. This flags up another of the problems with the interpretation many fundamentalists place on certain texts from the Bible.

In the Middle Ages a tendency developed to seek texts which supported certain policies, doctrines and actions. In part the Reformation tried to sweep that away - but the allure for the newly free and self proclaimed "prophets" of various Protestant Factions soon brought it back, with a vengeance. In the process the whole Gospel message of love and redemption in and through Christ got buried beneath an avalanche of Old Testament fire and brimstone. And the Fundamentalists love that!

The Guardian article is concerned with homophobia, a dreadful word in my view, introduced amid a plethora of new "phobias" which we are now told are "institutionalized" in just about everyone and everything. I reject that, but I do accept that a very small minority of extreme fundamentalists in all religions are "institutionally" afraid of homosexuality. The associate it with a disease, and are afraid their children may be "corrupted" by catching it. Frankly that is best described by a word I can't use here.

In the 1960s a certain Dr Kinsey claimed 10% of the US male population was homosexual. That has since been debunked (And Kinsey and his wife exposed as sexual predators and voyeurs), though the number remains a significant portion of the population. It is also extremely likely to be the same proportion in every population. It is not a "disease" transmitted by contact or association, someone not inclined that way is most unlikely to even consider trying it. Why, therefore, can we not get past this and recognise that just as people are different colours, have different beliefs and cultures and lifestyles - they are still among God's children? They don't "choose" to be that way - I remember being asked by a Gay man once, "would you choose to be a member of a hated minority if it was up to you?"

So please, don't fall into the trap of seeking texts in the Bible to support your fear. Please, will somebody call a halt to the proliferation of Fundamentalist sects and interpretations of this really good and useful book? Please stop making ALL Christians look ridiculous! I don't mind your worshipping in your own way and even pondering on the meaning of scripture - I do, a lot - but I do mind very much being made to look like some hatefilled bigot by idiots who can't accept that, if they actually looked at what the stories say and what science tells us - there is no conflict and certainly nothing to fear!

Please will somebody stop the abuse of the message of the Gospel by the selection of out of context texts to fight their political battles and express their very unChristian ideas?

The Book of Jonah (Another of the allegorical "story" books) tells the story that Jonah, having gone to Nineveh after trying to evade the call to do so, is angry that, when the city repents and turns back to God, the Lord does not destroy it. He takes umbrage and goes into a monumental sulk. God challenges him with the words; "Have you any right to be angry?" Perhaps that is something those who parade their "faith" and throw about texts to "prove" their points should take time to consider. The Gospel challenges us to embrace those who are different and to show compassion - not to stand in the market place and shout condemnation!

I guess you can tell I am cross  ...

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Budget Deficits

If the history I was taught is correct, "Deficit Budgeting" and "Income Tax" were invented in the late 1780s by Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger to fund Britain's war with Revolutionary France. I think we're still paying for that set of bank loans, never mind the one's successive government's have taken out since then. Thanks to One Happy Dog Speaks, I was reminded of this with her short YouTube clip ...

She gives a very good example based on household figures (by simply reducing the US National numbers to something approaching normality for a family) and I reproduce her summation here -

By simply removing the last eight zeros you get -

A household budget:
* Annual family income: $21,700
* Money the family spent: $38,200
* New debt on the credit card: $16,500
* Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710
* Total budget cuts: $385

Interestingly, Income Tax, at 1 penny in the pound, came to an end after 1815, but was reintroduced in 1914 and has been a millstone round our necks ever since. It was supposed to replace all the taxes on food and other "interesting" little government fund raisers, but, as you've probably realised, as the Bureaucracy and graft associated with the Civil  Service grew, so did the need to increase the tax take. Income tax has shot up from the original 1% to a whopping 50% for top earners in the UK and the average is around 25% before taking into account the add on taxes from VAT, Road Tax and the share we all pay toward Corporate Tax, Employers Contributions and so on. The US Debt is $14 Trillion and rising and the UK debts racked up by Liebor and Brown are similarly frightening, yet the Left, Liebor and the Guardianistas, can't seem to grasp the fact that the kind of budgeting they love - tell us where you keep your money and we'll take it and spend it for you - can no longer work.

I do find it strange that so many don't seem to be able to grasp the fact that no government in the world actually "owns" the money supply. Everything they have comes out of the pockets of the tax payers. In the days of the "Gold Standard" the money governments printed and issued was actually underpinned by the value of the "Treasure" in their Treasury. That is no longer the case. Every government in the world would be bankrupt tomorrow if their citizenry simply refused to pay the rapacious taxes imposed upon them by the self serving, greedy and venal politicians and their chums in the Civil Services ...

Some taxes are necessary. We do need to ensure that pensions are provided and that those in genuine need are assisted, that roads are maintained and water, sewage and so on are dealt with. But why do we need 6 million civil servants and of the order of 2,000 MPs, MEPs, MSPs, MAs and all their associated hangers-on to govern a small island nation of 60 million inhabitants when we once ruled an Empire stretching round the globe with 460 MPs, 300,000 seamen and soldiers and 3,000 civil servants? There is something seriously wrong with a nation that needs so many bureaucrats - one 5th of the total workforce!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

2012 and all that ...

The Postulant recently sent me a link to a science blog which discusses, from a geologists perspective, all the hype about the date 21-12-2012, the supposed "end of the world" date as calculated - in some interpretations - in the Mayan Calendar. In the blog Highly Allochthonous (Yeah, I know, I had to look that one up! To save others the trouble - it means a geological deposit that originated somewhere else.) the author describes the geologists responses to some of the more "way out" theories about the "end of the world." Their predictions make music to my ears, the only one I don't agree with is the comment about "carbon balances" - and that only because I do believe humanity is changing aspects of our climate, but not the way Greenstrife and other eco-terrorists claim. Put simply, if you increase the human population beyond what the land and its resources can support you get increased run-off when it rains, you get crop failures, you get droughts and you get floods somewhere else. Focussing on CO2 is misleading and time (and money) wasting!

Highly Allochthonous predicts -

In 2012:
  • The Earth’s tectonic plates will continue to move across the mantle at a few centimetres a year. Earthquakes and volcanoes will result in the usual fashion.
  • Based on the last century of seismic activity
  • , there will be 10-20 earthquakes with a moment magnitude greater than 7.0, with a good chance that at least one will exceed magnitude 8. Most of the largest are likely to be associated with subduction zones, with the consequent risk of a tsunami if they rupture at shallow depths.
  • There will be more than a hundred earthquakes between magnitude 6 and 7, which have the potential to cause considerable damage if the rupture occurs close to a major city.
  • As Erik Klemetti will tell you, volcanic eruptions happen all the time, and in 2012 they will continue to do so. Some will fairly harmlessly ooze lava; others will behave more explosively, mimicing this year’s Pliny-winning Puyehue-Cordón Caulle in Chile. But unless something really spectacular happens, akin to Mount Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991, all of these eruptions will be eclipsed by breathless speculation about any slight seismic activity that occurs beneath Katla, the Yellowstone caldera, or any volcano in the Pacific Northwest.
  • In a number of places, too much rain will fall in too short a time, and flooding will result. When this occurs in a rich western country, there will be relatively low casualties, a large bill for damages, and lots of media coverage; when it happens in a poorer country, casualties will be higher and many more people will be displaced, but the media will pay far less attention.
  • Scientists will continue point to the serious consequences of climate change as a result of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (which will continue to inexorably rise). The climate itself will continue to push up past the ‘normal’ range in which our civilisation developed and is tuned to flourish in. The resulting extreme weather events – be they heatwaves, floods, or unusually powerful storms – are far more likely to be attributed to mystical cosmic cycles than our disruption of the carbon cycle.

Read the whole of their enlightening post here. I've deliberately left the links in, even though some of what is said about the climate has now been amended and is being challenged - particularly the infamous and patently falsified "hockey stick" graph.

As I remarked in my previous post on all the Doomsday scenarios some folk just feel so utterly drawn to, there does seem to be something about our current society that simply thrives on dreaming up these dire events and outcomes! At least these geologists point up the realities behind some of the more exciting ones. Personally I can't wait to see the excuses that will have to be dreamed up when 21 December rolls past just as it always has.

Postscript: This is why the Hockey Stick is, in my opinion, fraudulent.