Friday, 31 August 2012

'Squatting' now illegal?

That has to be good news, despite the howls of protest from the pro-squatting groups on the left. The government has finally framed a law making the occupation of someone else's property illegal. It's taken far too long to secure this change in attitude. The blatant approach of many squater groups - such as the one based in East London which maintains an internet site with lists of 'desirable' properties available for squatters to 'take possession,' and which includes extremely valuable and important properties in the most expensive parts of London.

The argument that, simply because someone owns a second home, they are a legitimate target is fallacious. I've never owned more than one property, but even my humble little semi or terrace could be on the 'Squatters Directory' if my work took me away from it for more than a week. There is no justification for taking possession of someone's home (first or second) simply because 'I like it, it's standing empty, and I can get in without causing damage.' Rubbish, squatting has become a highly organised industry and it is time it was stamped on.

The excuse that most squatters are 'vulnerable' and 'homeless' isn't always the case and no longer holds true. Yes, there may be some, but they are not the majority any longer. Many are extremely well educated and have access to legal aid, legal teams on tap and know exactly how to string out the legal process - clumsy, expensive and time-consuming - to their advantage. And while the lawyers string things along, the squatters strip the house of valuable fittings, deface the walls and render the place uninhabitable so that when it is repossessed, it is no longer fit for habitation without a massive and expensive renovation.

No, it is long past time to treat squatting for what it is. Blatant theft. The law must not and cannot condone it.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

A change of heart?

Someone drew to my attention an interview with Dr Dawkins in which he apparently backed off from calling himself an Atheist and adopted the term Agnostic. In fact this isn't a "new" revelation, it is simply a restatement of the position he has set out in his book. What it does do though, is raise the point that he does believe - because he can't 'prove' the contrary - that there 'might,' after all, be a 'Creator God.' He certainly twisted and turned on this point in a debate between himself and the Archbishop of Canterbury back in February.

The Archbishop took the sting out of the doctor's attack on belief by pointing out that the Church of England does not and never has officially taught that the first chapter of Genesis is anything other than an allegorical 'story.' As His Grace said, the writers of Genesis did not have a 21st Century education in Physics. Had they been so educated they might have written the story differently. He then went on to agree with Dr Dawkins that the Big Bang was an extremely elegant theory - having everything created out of 'nothing,' and somewhat stole the thunder by adding, "which is what Genesis says."

Dr Dawkins represents a militant form of atheism, one which seeks to undermine and destroy faith, yet, every time I have seen them faced with a real theologian or someone who is articulate enough to respond to their very basic understanding of religion, they end up looking slightly foolish. I found the Archbishop's handling of Dr. Dawkins and his arguments and attempted slurs both enlightening and deeply Christian. Not once did the Archbishop attack his antagonist, much of the time he was saying, "I agree" or "there is nothing in what you say that challenges faith." Even in the final exchange, when Dr. Dawkins declared that the Pope had a different stance on whether Genesis was 'fact' or allegory, His Grace responded with a smile, "I shall ask him when I next have the opportunity."

I cannot help wondering though, what it is or was that has driven men like Dr Dawkins and Philip Pullman to take such an extreme and rather rabid stance against any form of religion, but particularly Christianity. It must have been something very traumatic indeed ...

I do feel that Dr. Dawkins accepting the label of Agnostic is an important one. An agnostic is one who accepts the possibility that there may well be, as Josephus reminded us, a "Supreme Architect" behind the apparent chaos of creation and the universe. It is a first step toward actually exploring that more fully to acknowledge that.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Two days - New House ...

In under two hours this morning the builders added the upper storey of the house they started assembling yesterday. By evening, the roof was going on. The interior plastering, wiring connections and plumbing work will begin on Monday. The owner expects to be in at the end of October, the main delay is the installation of a very sophisticated 'heat pump' for the heating system. This draws heat from the air and the ground and uses it to warm the interior of the house. Vorschprung durch technik wieder ...

Talking to the owner and the team assembling the 'kit' I have learned that the firm that makes them and assembles the reult on site is based in Austria but deliver and work all over Europe. The 'kit' is to 'owner's specification' so each one can be produced as an individual layout and event the footprint can be adjusted to your requirements. They can supply a basic plan, which a buyer can modify and adjust to taste, and then, once the contract is signed, they build it in their factory. During that period - usually six to eight weeks - the groundwork is completed, the foundation prepared and then the assembly schedule prepared. 

Watching this exercise has been fascinating. The first semi-trailer arrives on site early and the team get to work. Just before that truck is unloaded, the second appears and that is just finishing its delivery when the next arrives. The piece being fastened in place in the last picture above is number 410. There are a total, I'm told, of 530 pieces to this house ...

Looking at the way everything interlocks, is secured in place and the whole is connected to the ground, these are going to be good solid homes for years to come.

Oh, and our local IKEA sells its own 'kit' house with a similar arrangement for the assembly thereof. Construction is certainly moving on from where it was in the old days.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Ready, steady - build ...

A couple of weeks ago I reported that the builders had started ground works for three new houses being built in our village. The first involved a massive excavation and the laying of some concrete, then nothing seemed to happen for a few days. Then, suddenly, there was a fully assembled cellar in the hole. Today some large semi-trailer trucks arrived with a crane.

Now there's the whole lower storey of the house there. The last two photos show the chimney being lowered into position through the prepared 'slot' in the floor slabs to link up with the boiler in the cellar. The upper picture is the lower section, the lower is the top part of the chimney which will be joined on as soon as the supporting roof structure is in place.

The walls are prefabricated, even the electrical conduits, wiring and fittings alreaddy installed. The builders simply assemble the whole thing as each piece is lowered into place. Windows and doors are all fitted already.

The second storey is a timber framed construction and the key elements of this are also prefabricated. Once these are in place - presumably tomorrow - the lining, insulation and the outer covering will go on. I am informed that these houses are essentially 'kits' which an owner can select from a catalogue, order and have assembled on the site of his choice.

House building has certainly moved on since I were a lad!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Greed isn't Good - a Medieval View on Capitalism

In medieval times it seems capitalism flourished on the principle of fair dealing, hard bargaining and allowing the "market" to determine the value of any goods or services. Naked greed was not something the merchant classes encouraged or accepted. Medieval traders built trading empires, extended credit and charged interest on it, but frowned on blatantly selfish economic behaviour. Anyone who was blatantly greedy and deliberately drove prices up to increase profits soon found himself shunned and despised by his fellow businessmen. 

The interesting thing is that these men were also intensely conscious of community needs, and there are many examples of foundations they established for the benefit of the communities they lived and worked amongst. The City of London still funds most of its activities from money invested in Foundations and Trusts established for the benefit of the populace by men like Sir Richard Whittington (yes, Dick Whittington was a real person). Put simply, blatant greed was simply unacceptable among the Mercant classes of this period, so why has it changed?

It does seem to have crept in with the Reformation. Over the last 500 years there has been a gradual drift toward amassing and holding as much wealth as possible. Gradually the ethos of 'taking care of the poor of the parish' has been pushed away from the individual and onto 'the parish' at first and now 'the state.' That sense of being part of the community and sharing one's good fortune with a community, has apparently gone. Now the faceless 'state' must provide, the merchant's only concern is how to make sure he contributes as little as possible toward it.

Adam Smith certainly did not advocate unbridled greed. His treatise on wealth and wealth creation highlights the fact that wealth and prosperity need to be shared fairly, not simply accumulated for the benefit of a few. A fair price should be coupled with a fair wage for a fair days work. That last bit does, of course, impose the need for the 'worker' to deliver what they have contracted to do - a fair days work. And they do have a right to expect a fair wage for it, but you soon realise that a worker who failed to deliver in medieval times soon found himself out of work, house and community. Just as greed was frowned on, so to was idleness and shoddy work.

The Medieval Guilds acted to regulate many of these matters, and, according to one blog I read regularly on medieval matters, sometimes even condoned the murder of excessively greedy individuals whose actions threatened the welfare of the wider community. The full article I read on this can be found at under the title Greed wasn't good in the Middle Ages.

Perhaps a return to some of the ethics they practiced would do much to cure some of the ills that beset our economics today. However, I suspect that we workers need to get our focus adjusted as well. It is our demands for a greater share of the "merchant's rewards" that propels prices ever upward.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Rights versus Justice ...

I am left in two minds after the Norwegian murderer Breivik was sentenced to 21 years in prison for the cold-blooded murder of 77 people, 69 of them teenagers or early 20s. OK, he disagreed with the politics they represented, but that does not confer a 'right' to kill them. So why do I have doubts over the 'justice' of his sentence?

In 21 years this man will be 'released under licence.' Yes, he will be in his late 50s and he will find it difficult to get a job or to lead a 'normal' life. But he has denied all life to his victims, and now we have the spectacle of him being assigned a specially 'adapted' cell - orginally three, now knocked into one 'apartment' larger than many young people can afford to rent - and it is equipped with every luxury, even his own private gym. The argument advanced by the lady governor of the prison is that "he is a human being, he has civil rights, and the state has a duty to take care of his health, welfare and mental state."

Once again, it seems, the "rights" of a criminal are trumping the "right' of the victims and the bereaved to see justice done. Simply depriving him of his liberty is not sufficient punishment. He does not regret his actions, he's proud of them. He 'apologised' for not killing more, and now, at huge expense, he can be sure he will not have to face the realities of the victims or their families. He will be protected from his fellow prisoners who might be tempted to teach him some manners. Even in old age he will not face the difficulties faced by ordinary pensioners, whose pensions will now, no doubt, be held in check to help pay for this murderers comfort, care and protection.

I do not believe justice has been done here. It has certainly not been seen to be done. Is it any wonder so many victims of crimes all across the western democracies feel they cannot rely on justice? I think the concern for the "rights' of criminals, and that is all Breivik is, has gone far too far. Justice MUST be seen to be done and in this case, I note with interest, many of the victims families feel aggrieved and let down by the treatment this monster looks forward to.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Something a bit different for Friday

I've been playing around with Mausi's camera, a rather more 'tecky' one than I usually use. There is certainly a lot to experiment with. I thought I'd try some close-up stuff since there is a lot happening on the small scale in our garden.

So here are some results -

I'm willing to bet Josephus can name the genus of the plants and the insects in them ...

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Again, my "comment" was too long

An excellent reflective post from the Monk, obviously heartfelt but not proof-read! I have taken now to writing in my word processor, correcting and only then posting it as my new keyboard aids my banana fingers quite well. I can still compose at about 1200 words per hour, but not all of the words contain the right letters.

The only vigil I have kept was the night prior to my investiture as a Rover Scout, it was a very meaningful process of meditation and would have been even better in the majestic surroundings of an Abbey or great Cathedral Church; I will except Coventry from that list, I am afraid that to me, the great Cathedral Church of St Michael is the ruin alongside the Basil Spence /Arup structure, I mean, they didn't even have a compass when they laid out the floor plan and that great green altar cloth leaves me cold, also the seats tend to numb one's bum after about an hour.

One of the most meaningful churches I have ever visited can be viewed here : dedicated to St Adamnan the thesis of Dr Sylvia Landsberg written in 1955 gives a great history. The church dates from 707, although the present structure is believed to be as late as 1265, by 1680, however, only the church remained above the sand, the settlements of Kirton of Forvie, along with Haddo of Forvie and Milton of Forvie had all been inundated over about 200 years by the dunes and become not only uninhabitable but unable to support crops. Four walls with a North and a South door just shoulder-width, there would never have been any glass for windows, and I suspect that there were never doors in the openings. Today the walls now stand at between four and five feet high, there is no roof, but there is a peaceful tranquillity inside the building that is not there outside of it. If there is a church where one's God could be said to sit next to one, it is that church.

One of the most meaningful services I ever attended was in the small mining hamlet of Blucher in Northumberland. At that time it stood at the head of an ancient waggonway, with modern wagons and steel hawsers, that took coal brought by 0-2-0 locomotive from North Wallbottle Colliery and then sent them by gravity down to the river Tyne, the empties being hauled up as the full wagons descended. The service took place in a Methodist chapel and was the Harvest Festival, but where were the piles of apples, the sheaves (we called them “stooks”) of corn? On a small table between the front pew and the minister, there was a huge lump of coal, fully fifteen inches cubed, and a brass Davey-lamp. That was their harvest, that was what they celebrated. The little Hamlet is more peaceful today as the new A69 by-passes it, but look for it on the maps, it is worth a visit, although the coal is no more.

I am not sure if I believe in The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, if I do, I do not subscribe to the next part of Acts, 3:13, (most quoted to me if I had become a Monk would have been Job 33:29-31). However, there are two aspects of St Ignatious Loyola's writings that have always captured my imagination. One is the (Ignoring the fact that he was a Jesuit!) Ingatian principle that one can, in fact should, find awareness that God can found in every one, in every place and in everything.   The other is the simple prayer that we used in the Rover Scouts, simple, but deeply meaningful;

Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.

Noticing that it is as I remember prayers in my childhood, not requiring the intervention of any third party between the person praying and the deity being asked for strength. For many years, at every main meal, the Lord was thanked for the food in one of many ways, at school, at social gatherings, at home, but no-one felt obliged to ask Jesus to be an intermediary, I preferred that simplicity. I do not believe that religion or a belief in a supreme being is anything other than a positive human desire; however, the harm that hasd been caused over the ages has been caused by those who can only bear to consider their God on their own special terms, through their own “chosen one” and that all else is heresy or blasphemy.  To illustrate further my view here can I invite you to read a joke written by Emo Phillips more than 20 years ago that has been voted the funniest religious joke of all time:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"

He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What franchise?" He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"

He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too!"

Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

That is where most organised religion, for me, has lost its way.

I always enjoyed the ritual of the book of Common Prayer; the Morning Prayer and Evensong services were wonderful yet simple, the Communion varies according to the “height” of the ritual of the officiating Vicar, Curate or Rector, but illustrates the tale of the last supper in a deeply meaningful way. I appreciate ritual and would appreciate a Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass, except that my Latin is forgotten and it was the scholastic sort not the liturgical sort. I have never, however, even in my childhood in the fifties and sixties, believed in transubstantiation. Allegory is a wonderful teaching tool and I choose to take the allegorical story which I find meaningful, rather than contemplate either alchemy or cannibalism. In the same way, I took Masonic oaths and meant them, although I do not really expect my tongue to be torn out and buried in the sand at the low-water mark; especially not as the sea is rather too far from my home. That, perhaps though, is just my hatred of “absolutism”.

My personal book of Common Prayer is referred to quite often for a non-believer, it was awarded as a school prize on 9th March 1892, obviously, not to me, and is the most beautiful book, with great font and fine paper, a pleasure to read. However, in 1967/8 (our church, where my Father was a Churchwarden was chosen for the “pilot”.) came the new liturgy. Trendy it might have been, but the solemn magic, the feel of a connection with events thousands of years before-hand in distant lands was simply not there: personally, I think that ritual and ceremony make religious adherence easier, although, perhaps I was always just there for the show!

Keeping the faith

Josephus touched on several points yesterday which have long bothered me about my faith and the faith practiced and taught by others, both Christian and Muslim. The comment by Didymus touched on something else, hence my ramblings today.

Like Josephus I am uncomfortable with 'absolutist' positions on matters of faith. Who ends up in heaven and who in hell is something only God can know, and, as a very wise priest I know once said to me, He may even have a place for atheists in heaven. Personally I have come to believe that all religious teachings have something of the "inspired" about them. All contain something that informs us about God, and, yes, each claims theirs is the only 'true' revelation. It is these absolutist positions which divide us and perhaps blind us to the true nature of God.

This leads me to Didymus' comment regarding his feeling on entering the Abbey Church in Tewkesbury. I too have experienced that sensation of having been welcomed into the 'home' of a friend when I enter it. It is an experience many visitors remark on. Like Didymus, I have kept the Maundy vigil and again, I can attest to the sensation of sharing in the history, the company and the 'great cloud of witnesses' that seem to gather in that space. Nor is it unique, there are many other churches and even mosques where I have felt the same, and there are others were I have not. Perhaps that is the difference in experience. Another priest friend once told me that if he sat down in a church and did not feel God sat beside him, he knew he was in the wrong place.

I have to confess that I have, on occasion, taken an 'absolutist' position myself. I am, after all, a Christian and an Anglican by persuasion. My introduction to religion through my family was more accidental than planned and sending me to a Methodist Sunday School while everyone else had a Sunday 'lie-in' very nearly turned me against everything to do with God. So, as a Christian by choice, I do tend to think everyone else should see the virtue and the benefit. Then I remember the Methodist Minister and his absolutist declaration that just about everything my parents and grandparents did would see them all in hell toot-sweet. Perhaps I have been fortunate in my mentors and guides in developing my faith. There have been many, and they have all been remarkable in their faith.

I do have my days when I let doubts run riot, but usually run across something that derails doubt again and puts me back on the path. I know that others, even archbishops, have the same problem from time to time. The key is to keep asking questions, to keep studying the background, the writings of the thinkers who have framed and shaped the faith and to explore the new thinking and ideas. That includes, as Josephus has hinted, taking on board what science reveals as well. The Old Testament is frequently used to block any innovation or change of attitude in the churches, but is that valid? I very much doubt it, the Letter to the Hebrews states categorically that the Gospel is the complete fulfillment of the Old, it no longer has currency.

In my post yesterday I was trying to highlight the fact that despite the popular press (as Josephus says, often misleading) presenting 'scientific' Theory and reasoning as an 'absolute' with everything cut and dried, there are many areas where nothing is tangible, nothing is absolute and a great deal relies on assumption and 'belief' in certain key matters.

I choose to believe that there is a God. I choose to accept the Christian version of how God has and does work in the world and among us all. I accept that the churches - indeed all religions - are deeply flawed. It stands to reason that, being human constructs, built around God's inspiration, they contain all the human flaws and all the errors we are capable of making. The key is that, somehow, they serve a need deep within us. A need to believe in something greater and wiser than ourselves, and a need to believe that this short span of years that is allotted to us by our genes (as J C Barnard who pioneered the first heart transplants remarked, we're programmed to self destruct from the age of 35 because our antecedents couldn't outrun the predators they shared caves with) and that it will be a better existence when we reach it.

And in the meantime, I will remain friends with those of faith, those of no faith and those who may have faith. Each and every person is important to me for all the reasons John Donne gave in his "Meditation XVII" somewhere around 1649. "No man is an island, entire of itself." Thanks Josephus and Didymus for reminding me.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Truth or Proof?

Rather than post a "Comment" of limited length in parts 1, 2 and so on, this is a "reply post".

It is interesting that the Monk chooses “i” (or “j” for the electrical engineers out there.) as an illustration of the scientific and therefore proof-based aspects of natural philosophy. The reason being that the “i” stands for “imaginary”, the square root of minus 1, which if imagined allows the square root of any other negative value to be calculated, is necessary to allow certain theories to be advanced, but it is never claimed to be “real”.   The concept of the Higg's Boson is equally imaginary; something must be doing “stuff” to provide the mass that would otherwise slow down the various leptons and baryons that have been identified or else there would either be no mass, and therefore no gravity... and so on, or else we are simply imagining these things, so it is searchrd for.  It can never be seen or weighed, it is intangible, but to some scientists, its existence is a matter of faith.

I agree with the Monk about the contemporary problems relating to scientific “proof”; in basic science, experiments can be repeated with identical results all over the world. Except that differences in the results may identify new theories or extend the boundaries of knowledge in a given field: for example, most people are aware that pure water will boil at 100° Celsius, however, try that at Everest Base Camp and your Chai will be somewhat weak. Water will boil at that temperature only at normal, or standard, temperature and pressure, we therefore extend both our knowledge and our understanding by brewing, or trying to brew, tea at altitude.

Personally, my falling out with the scientific community is rarely to do with the science that I studied for so many years, but with the human description of findings or lack of them. Between the Governments Chief Scientific Adviser and the fourth estate, there is very little that can be claimed to be “proven” in the language used supposedly to educate, or at least inform the general population, who have been indoctrinated by institutions such as Auntie Beeb for many years that science is too complicated and boring to be worth the attention of any serious scholar, they should stick to the classics or fine art, or if under thirty to more modern pastimes. There needs to be a philosophical interpretation of “proof”.

In a Western court of criminal law, proof of guilt is required to a standard “beyond reasonable doubt”, in a court of common law a standard based upon the “balance of probabilities” is sufficient.

Which “Proof” is the “Truth”?

To return to science once more, the field of fire science is still regarded as a bastard discipline as it will only obey the fundamental rules of nature under laboratory conditions. Once fire leaves the laboratory and becomes that tool that distinguished Man from the other creatures for many millennia, it becomes very unpredictable in any normal “scientific” sense; one may project what will happen under conditions x, y & z, but it is only a prediction and even a 1,000,000:1 degree of confidence would leave 66 corpses per unit of time in the UK alone. Now, that “unit of time” is that 66 per year, that's okay(ish), 66 per week... people might notice, but only if they were looking, per day, well, you would get worried, per second and we would be wearing amulets, swinging censers, treasuring icons and one suspects that the churches, chapels, synagogues, temples and mosques would be running rolling liturgies twenty-four hours a day. Man interprets his world by his experiences, seeing corpses falling down or being carried from burning buildings many times each day would alter the interpretation of most normal people. Perhaps one of our greatest modern deprivations is that we rarely see death; our Grandparents or if you are younger, great Grandparents were commonly laid on the kitchen table and washed down by the family long before the undertaker came, this is now an underground, covert, ritual unavailable to the eyes of the common man or woman; perhaps I should start a death cult based upon the solemn rituals to ease passing.

So, we have imaginary numbers supporting engineering theories that hold buildings up and allow electronic equipment to function. We have courts of criminal law imprisoning building managers for refusing to believe the estimates of a fire risk assessor, based on the principal that it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that, in the words of the prosecution, that “responsible person” has placed others at risk of death or serious injury as a result of fire by virtue of not implementing measures imagined by another to be sufficient to prevent that death or injury. Again, I suggest that there needs to be a philosophical interpretation of “Proof”.

So, when does projected knowledge become “absolute”? 1+1=2 is a good starting point, an immutable mathematical law, however, if we interpret our world by this “truth” then given one mummy rabbit and one daddy rabbit, that law will not be valid over time. Two streams will form one river, therefore 1+1>1! To move forward from here does not require knowledge alone, it requires understanding; that understanding cannot exist without the knowledge, but it can be improved immeasurable by faith. Faith is an entirely human construct, but it has great value in interpreting one's view of the world. For some, that faith requires ritual, for some a belief in a supreme being or creator, not only in religion, the Freemasons demand a belief in the Grand Architect of the universe, they do not, however go further and so you will see Jew, Muslim and Christian work their rituals side by side as brothers. Other religions have many “Gods” such as Hinduism or none as in Buddhism, but they all give their followers assistance in interpreting the world that they inhabit.

What of Angels and Demons? In the Second World War, many find it incongruous that the Wehrmacht carried the words Gott Mit Uns, a hangover from the German Empire. Obviously, God was an Anglo-Saxon Protestant, whichever side he was on.   I came very close to physical violence one time after a Masonic meeting when I reminded someone who was using his “beliefs” as a justification for racist slurs, when I reminded him that King Solomon wore a turban!   The “Guardian Angel” that watched over the surviving victor was the “Demon of Death” to the person on the receiving end.   My major issue with the ten commandments is that all of the Mosaic or Abrahamic religions, especially Christianity and Islam insist that their way is the only way.   There can be only one God according to Moses, but according to the Christian, one can only approach through Christ, so all Muslims go to Hell.   Well, oddly, the Muslims have the same rules, so all of the Infidels go to Hell.  I think based upon literal reading of all religious works, Hell will be a very busy place because we are all heading that way.   Of course, there may be a Purgatory where one can present one's case and pass on to pastures new as a result of having spent a good life, but isn't it better to be a sinner until the last minute?  The one flaw with all of these interpretations is that we lack “Proof”. 

Religion is a matter of faith, it is the faith that aids the human soul on its journey along life's road.  It is, however, science that makes our current road more comfortable than that of our fore-fathers.

Reason and Faith/Belief and Proof

I think it was Voltaire who famously declared that; "Reason exists, therefore God does not." It is a pretty positive statement, and I'm sure many would argue against it on theological grounds. The problem is that there is a clash of reasoning within it as well and there is an even bigger clash between 'science' - defined as absolute reason - and 'philosophy' - defined as "the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence." It is in the very nature of philosophical discussion to apply 'reason' to explore everything about those three areas of our understanding - but not to provide 'proof' of any of it. Science, on the other hand, demands 'proof' of everything before anything is accepted.

Or does it?

This is where things start to blur at the edges and most people's heads start wanting to explode. Sadly, it is also where a lot of people who claim to be atheists for the reason Voltaire gave, find themselves up against a clash of 'reason' when they really start to explore this field.

Atoms are, scientists believe, held together by the interactions of protons, neutrons and electrons. So far so good, but none of these account for the 'mass' of an atom or why it holds together in a particular form. 'Reason' says 'we know, because they do.' (Descarte famously said, 'I think, therefore I am') but what does that 'prove'? A philosopher would actually say, 'I believe this, because, although I cannot see it, something is holding them all together.'

The latest findings of the CERN Large Hadron Collider have provided evidence that the Higgs Boson probably does exist (I note that the scientists involved have been very cautious in their statements on it). Instantly named the "God Particle" in the popular press, quantum scientists have for long looked for it and tried to 'prove' it exists. The Hadron Collider has cost billions of €uros, Dollars or Pounds to create and all it really does is smash atomic particles into even tinier fragments. It hasn't actually 'proved' anything, but it does provide evidence that the particle may exist. It has also shown it can't do so in a stable form for more than a few nanoseconds. As Josephus rather aptly remarked recently, it is "the piece of God which passeth all understanding."

Quantum theorists rely heavily on 'reason' and on mathematics for their 'proofs' and theories, but here we run into more problems when declaring 'absolute' knowledge. Logic alone declares that you cannot have a square root of a negative number. Reason says that there can be no such thing as the Square Root of Minus 1, but there are one heck of a lot of mathematical theories which rely on the 'belief' that there is a square root of -1. So, can it be 'proved?' Can reason 'prove' it exists? I would suggest not, though some will no doubt argue that it must exist because all these mathematical theories won't hold up if it doesn't. That isn't reason at all - that is a step into the realms of 'faith.' 

A recent book written in Australia by the prominent Australian atheist, Alain de Boton, recommends that atheism needs to learn from religion in providing 'food for the inner being' and spaces where tranquility, meditative consideration of things  can happen and stress can be shed. It even suggests that religious 'ritual' may be good for us. I was reminded of this when I read a 'Tweet' which said - 

To those who say only religions know how to invent rituals of community and transcendent joy: #OlympicCeremony  

It struck me immediately that this man has actually failed to grasp the difference between a 'ritual' which is something repeated daily, weekly or monthly - but repeated - and a stage show. He's trying to claim an orange is an apple.

So back to atheism and faith. Faith serves a useful psychological and sociological purpose. It protects us psychologically from what can seem a very cold and uncaring universe. Atheists sneer and say the faithful are weak-minded... from the comfort of their generally very cosseted lives. They have missed the point that we are human beings and need to believe that someone out there cares what happens to us. I dare say most atheists have someone who fulfills that role in their life. 

Rituals are used to focus the attention and the thoughts of those taking part on particular aspects of a church service, or in a Mosque, on the prayers to be said. Stage plays and the Olympic extravaganza are one-off performances to entertain.

Rationalists will argue that religion exists because humans have a deep psychological need to believe in a big mummy or daddy in the sky. They will assert that this need has been with us since the dawn of civilization. So we created deities to believe in and formed organised religion, which to greater or lesser degrees have become woven into the fabric of our societies and informed different cultures' ideas on how we treat one another, other living creatures and the world we live in. Where did the psychological need come from though? Do other animals need to believe in something bigger than themselves? Perhaps they do, we really have no way of knowing, but anyone who has witnessed a mare with a dead foal, a duck whose ducklings have been killed by a pike or a cat with a stillborn kitten will certainly have stopped to ask that question. 

Why have humans evolved to worry about such things? What does the absence of such an impulse bring? What if scientists all declared today that, as 'logic' says there can be no square root of a negative number, none exists and therefore all theories dependent on it are invalid? That would shake the very foundations of al lot of our current understanding of physics to say the very least.

We do have some examples of where a lack of religious philosophy takes us and what it can produce. Another observer commented -

"Those who actively deny that there is any spiritual meaning to life, tend to also deny that other human beings have any redeeming qualities - and by default set everyone else's spiritual or existential value at zero. To hope that there is innate goodness in others is human - to believe that other humans are mere selfish animals is inhuman. To hope that there is a force that binds us all together is human - to deny all hope and actively seek to destroy that comfort for others is inhumane." (I have emphasised the final 'e').

Organised religions are human constructs, and therefore contain all the imperfections humanity is capable of. Their various followers would argue that all are, however flawed, inspired by God and the flaws are human misunderstanding or abuse. To me that is not an argument to throw the baby out with the bathwater, it is a case for seeking greater understanding of what the core values and messages are - just as scientists have done in their pursuit of the unseeable. The purpose of organised religion is to provide a vehicle, and a pathway, to explore an aspect of our humanity science, reason and logic cannot - our inner spiritual selves, the part of us that is made in the image of God. What one might call the 'Higgs Boson' of our humanity.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Group Value?

Occasionally something wanders across my awareness that makes me blink, go back and take another look. One such was an article I stumbled across while researching something else. It struck a cord somewhere in my head, because it touched on something I've often pondered, but never really given a great deal of thought to. The article, The Minority Victim Value Index, by Daniel Greenfield, provides a lot of food for thought on this subject.

How do the movers and shakers in the media, politics and 'policy' lobbyists decide whose 'rights' trump everyone elses? The answer is they use something which has become known as a "Victim Value Index." It has its origins in the pragmatic putdown by Frederick Douglass of a woman's sufferage campaigner after the passing of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, which grants the right to "Negro men" to vote. As he was a campaigner for equality for all people including woman his questioner probably expected a different answer to the one she got.

In effect he told her that Black men had a higher "Victim" rating because women weren't subject to being "dragged from their homes and hung." Ever since, the liberal tendency who claim to promote equality have used this 'rating' to measure whose 'rights' trump another 'victim' groups. According to Mr, Greenfield each group has a 'rating' based on their deemed 'victimhood.' As he puts it, "He who suffers most, wins." So, according to this rating system, black Americans score higher than native Americans, largely because of the "guilt" factor associated by the fact the Africans were slaves, but the Amerindians were not. Gays are on this rating as well, but their position in the rankings is volatile and surprisingly women come in last.

In the minds of those who seek to reform our society at every level, the value of a 'victim' group lies in how their 'sufferings,' however far in the past, can be used to promote the grievances, supposed or real, to the head of the list. What most of us forget is that the abolition of slavery in the US is only just over a hundred years ago. We also forget that they fought a very bloody civil war over it. That hasn't stopped the 'liberal' campaigners in the UK from using guilt over the UK's involvement in the slave trade - they ignore completely the fact that it was the UK that first outlawed the 'trade' and then actively used their military to suppress it - and campaign relentlessly to promote one minorities 'rights' after another over everyone elses.

Mr. Greenfield quoted George Orwell's classic, Animal farm, in his opening statement and I quote his quote here -

Toward the end of Animal Farm when the formerly revolutionary seven commandments have been rewritten to "All Animals are Equal... But Some Animals are More Equal than Others", what began with the promise of equality has reverted to an authoritarian caste system. America's civil rights revolution similarly began with, "All Americans are Equal" and ended up with, "All Americans are Equal... But Some Americans are More Equal than Others."

It is now many years since I read that classic, but it was, it seems to me, never more pertinent than it is now. The only thing I would alter in his statement is the final element. All people are equal, but some, whom we can label oppressed or victims, are more equal than everyone else.

It all depends on how much noise your group can make and how much attention they can get to the possibility of disrupting or destroying the comfortable lifestyles of everyone else. Mr. Greenfields article is well worth the read.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Altruism ...

Some time ago I was present when the statement was made that "there is no such thing as altruism." Everybody, according to the speaker was only moved to do anything for 'reward.' It will probably come as no surprise that the speaker was a politician. The view is one that does seem to permeate our society at present, volunteers are derided, castigated or discouraged by the oft repeated view from the Union side that, 'you're depriving someone of a job' or the scoffing, 'you must be crazy. What will that do for your bank balance.'

As I was reminded this morning by a post in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Anne Wolfe, altruism is driven by many motives, not all of them for straighforward motives. Some may undertake a task at way below the financial return to fulfil some private inner need for recognition, others because they truly believe that going to live in poverty in some African backwater to teach, will make the world a better place. Often the motive can be described as 'self-interest' but not always. What it most certainly will never be is selfish. This is the point Anne Wolfe makes in her article on the extremely influential Russian writer, Ayn Rand, the mother of the 'greed is good' version of Capitalism in spirit if not in fact. Her writing was, and is still, hugely influential among the current generation of super capitalists. No doubt the chap who uttered the remark I heard at a reception, was of the same mindset as Ms Rand.

In her world-view, selfishness was the highest 'moral' value, and the 'Masses' were simply resentful of success; parasites who live off the hard work of the entrepeneur and deserving only of contempt.

I find myself unable to agree with that thinking, and I'm pretty confident I'm not alone. As Ms. Wolfe points out, 'enlightened self-interest' is what makes altruism possible, not selfishness. I know I am far more likely to undertake some unpaid and possibly under valued task if I may at some future date, benefit from having done so. Of course that is not 'true' altruism which, in the dictionary definition is the undertaking of some task, duty or obligation without any prospect of reward.

That probably describes the soldier, sailor or airman who puts his life on the line to save his colleagues, or the fire fighter who makes the attempt to save a victim from a fire when all the indicators are that life is possibly extinct and the attempt is extremely dangerous. Of course my politician would most likely argue that such acts are driven by the craving for attention or the desire to 'be a hero.'

Sadly, this is a view promoted by many of the 'Union' representatives I have met as well. In this world-view everything is a 'job' done only for reward and to be refused if it doesn't fit the ideology or the attitude adopted by the individual. Hopefully the view will change in the near future as more and more people realise that "Greed is NOT good" and a lot more enlightened self-interest fed altruism might just produce that better society we all hope for.

It might, of course, mean weeding out those who think "there is no such thing as altruism." That may take a little time and effort.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Interesting ...

An interview with the Finnish Finance Minister in the Daily Telegraph has been reported in the German papers. As I live close to Frankfurt-am-Main, the centre of the €urozone Central Bank, I suppose this is natural. Especially when the Finnish Minister suggests that the €urozone is about to break-up and his government already has plans for what to do when it does.

The immediate response from Brussells is, as you would expect, that they have NO plans and DO NOT intend to make any. Interesting, because, with all the politicians on their summer vacations, the "€uro Crisis" hasn't featured much in the news here lately. So I guess this statement must play into a wider agenda. Perhaps it is intended to wake Brussells up and kick them back to work. A cynic might retort to that - "That would be a first then!" As they say in German; Das geht nicht. Bureaucrats and real work are complete strangers.

Seriously though, if, as so many seem now to be predicting, at least in the English language sphere, the €uro does go under, there will be a need to reinvent currencies. Some will be less difficult, I suspect, than others, but it will be a painful process. The pain, however, is most likely to be felt by the men and women in the street - not by those who have engineered it.

Add to that, who will want to trade in Drachmas, Lira or Pesos if they are revived? Some of them may be forced into a straight 'barter' system - which, rumour has it, is what the already destitute are forced to do now in some places.

Whichever way, and I am a supporter of the idea of the single currency, those that have recklessly brought it to this point, and those that gloat at the prospect of destroying it will not be the ones paying the price. That annoys me.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Weekend already?

The week seems to have managed to pass at a pace I think can only be explained by an acceleration in the planet's rotation. It can't possibly be Friday already ...

Mausi has been in Berlin on official business and returns in a couple of hours, so I have to get myself geared up to fetch her from Frankfurt Terminal 2. Friday traffic on the autobahn can be 'entertaining' so there will be an allowance for delays to build in. The only problem is that we are due at an evening gathering in Biebrich as well. So there isn't going to be much chance to catch up or do any of the normal 'sorting out' things we do on Fridays.

So, it seems it will be a busy weekend. We have a lunch date on Sunday as well.

I think I need another weekend already.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The New Face of Bullying

A thread started by Josephus on Facebook has brought out some interesting examples of the sinister turn that bullying has taken in recent years within organisations. Ironically, especially those that are supposed to have been 'reformed' in order to 'stamp out' corporate bullying. As Josephus has highlighted, the civil service, in all its manifestations, has become the worst offender, secure in the knowledge that it is never subjected to the sort of scrutiny any 'capitalist' organisation would get.

in Private Eye; "Despite losing an employment tribunal with a damning summing up, Northumbria, tyne and wear HNS trust is still playing dirty and refusing to reinstate the person they accused of bullying in order to get rid, allegedly due to trade union activity. "The saga of unlawfully sacked psychiatric nurse Yunus Bakhsh takes a turn for the sinister as yet another anonymous threatening letter emerges." Funny how in industry this sort of conduct, while rare, leads to things like the Leveson inquiry, in the public sector it is hidden well away in the small print."

If this were the only example of the Civil Service breaking the rules, it could be an abberration in one area, but its not. There are numerous examples of the use of threats of 'poor annual reviews' and draconian actions taken against individuals who dare to oppose "management" or who stand up for the rights of the colleagues subjected to bullying managers. I am aware of at least one case where managers have taken actions which could prejudice any legal process.

The problem is, as Josephus has pointed out elsewhere, that management is now down to "measurements, targets and control." The new weapons of the bullying "manager" against anyone who dares to stand up for decency and fair treatment, is to use innuendo, peer pressure and nit-picking criticism of a persons work. Or they place obstacles in the way of the target, the simplest is to withhold resources, preventing them from completing a task or from acttually doing it. That, of course, becomes something that can be used against them in an annual appraisal.

It is insidious, it is contrary to everything the civil service claims it is supposedly 'leading' in creating a 'fair' society. The tragedy is that though a lot of people know what is going on and can give examples aplenty, no one dare do so. The Civil Service can, when it goes as wrong as this, be worse than the infamous Mafia or the Chinese Tongs ...

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Civic Expansion!

Our village is starting to expand. It must be a sign of something. Three new houses are under construction on what used to be paddocks below us and there will, ultimately, be sixteen. The road has been laid in, the services are there, now the builders are getting stuck in. I'm fascinated by the system these guys are using. Most of the outer shell is prefabricated, so, once the ground works are completed, it's in with the concrete pumps, the trucks arrive and the crane gets busy.

Hey, presto, in one day you have the major part of the house erected. In two months it's ready for occupation. The preparation work is done by an artist with a digger and a laser operated theodolite. I'm not kidding, this guy uses a big digger to sculpt the ground into the exact level and the exact shape for the house. Then  along comes another load of concrete slabs, these are laid out and interlocked and the next time you look there are walls going up.

Last week I walked past a hole in the ground in the morning and noted the concrete slab and some steel ties at the bottom. Next day there was a complete cellar there. It's lined, insulated and waterproofed. Even the oil tanks for the heating system are installed. Tomorrow they tell me they'll put the house shell over it.

German efficiency I think it's called. Or is it the famous 'Vorschprung durch technik?'

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

A Deliberate Sundering?

Something Josephus shared recently has surfaced again. (See The Spectator article here.) When Tony Blair forced through the legislation creating a Parliament in Scotland and Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland, he paved the way for the dissolution of the United Kingdom. The Cabinet Minutes for the discussions in his Cabinet in 1997 remain sealed and at least one of the members of that Cabinet has shown himself willing to fight to keep them so. Why? Would it reveal something treasonable?

Now we have the Chancellor of the Exchequer of that same period, the same man whose tax, borrow and spend economics has ruined the economy, promoting Scottish independence. Perhaps the seal on the Cabinet Minutes is intended to hide the fact that the majority of Blair's Cabinet were Scottish and Welsh MPs - and he needed them in Westminster to remain in power. Had he addressed the problem Josephus reminded me of, and given the English their own Parliament, Blair's ability to impose his ideology on England would have vanished. This is why, instead of a 'parliament' for England he tried to divide it into 'regions' with "assemblies."

By meddling with the Constitution, Blair set about destroying the Union. I suspect he knew this all along, but went ahead with it anyway. As the Spectator article Josephus drew to my attention says, by failing to address the issue of the Union being four nations with one parliament, then giving three of the four representative bodies, and denying the fourth that privilege, he set in motion a drift toward the breakup. Already the Republicans in Ulster are set to challenge the Act of Union and demand the 'return' of Ulster to the Republic. Welsh nationalists will not be far behind if Scotland does leave the Union.

I have no doubt that England can and will stand on its own if the Union is broken, but it will not be good for any of the four nations in the short term and there will be a political mess left behind.

Perhaps it is time to demand the opening of these 'secret' minutes and see just what Blair and his cronies are afraid of having revealed.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Blog time

It's been a busy weekend and a busy day. I'm afraid I didn't get time to write a post on any of the ideas I've had churning around in my head today.

Never mind, normal service will resume tomorrow.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Bring on the bearers and beaters ...

Today is a gardening day, the back hedge has been getting a little wild, so it has been tamed and trimmed, garden has been weeded and the tomatoes in our 'Tomato House' are starting to ripen. There's going to be quite a nice crop eventually. The odd thing this year is that, like last year, it is unseasonably cool. Temperatures at night have been dropping rather sharply and the wind is staying northerly and cool. It's been quite wet as well, though not as wet as Britain.

In the wet, the strip behind our hedge, which acts as a break between the houses and the horse paddocks, has turned into a jungle. Mausi tackled it today in an effort to get to our hedge. It is almost a case of getting in the men with machetes, bearers with camping gear and the guide toting an elephant gun. She's won through though despite comments such as 'Doctor Mausi, I presume' and offers to find a pith helmet.

Still, the weather is mild, we've won the battle and enjoyed coffee in the Gazebo with "Puddingbretzeln" and we're planning to have a little barbecued sausage for our supper tonight.

Time for a little relaxation before then, eh, what!

Friday, 10 August 2012

A Cautionary Tale ...

The Monk recently upgraded his iMac to the all new Mountain Lion Operating System. At the same time Mausi decided, with the Monk, to upgrade our printer/scanner to a new one we had discussed and liked. There was only one problem as far as could be seen, that is the download speed of our internet connection. So, the iMac was duly packed up and taken down to our local Apple Mac representatives and they set it up in their store, connected it to the internet and - zing. Some forty minutes to download the system update and another 30 or so to install it and the iMac performs extremely well.

Except for one small problem. It can see the new printer/scanner. It can even identify the fact that it has downloaded all the relevant tools on the CD for the printer/scanner. What it can't do is talk to it ...

Various downloads have been searched, tried and and ... nothing. Finally, the Apple Support team were contacted, they did a search and - presto. "Sorry, sir, there is, at present, no driver available for Mountain Lion and that model Samsung CLX 3185W Printer/Scanner. We suggest you call Samsung Technical Support and see if they can help."

The Monk did so. Samsung's helpful adviser only dealt in Mobile Phone problems, but he passed the details of the problem and the return call number to the Technical Support staff for Printers... Seven days later, the Monk has had a call from Samsung.

Now he could attempt to be amusing. He could attempt to give this a Japanese accent, but he won't. He will resist the temptation. There is, it seems, no driver for quite a number of Samsung printers available for use on an iMac with Mountain Lion. The Monk is assured that one is being developed and will be available ... soon.

Thankfully, the Monk's other printer, a Black and White Lexmark is very happy to work with the Mountain Lion. So, a little patience is required, full service is promised, we just don't know when ...

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Patriotism and Nationalism

Both these terms seem to have become, in the minds of the literate elite at any rate, synonomous with 'Fascism.' There certainly are examples where extreme patriotism and extreme nationalism are, and have been, exploited for ideological purposes, but does that mean that anyone who feels a small glow of pride in belonging to a particular nation or supports the activities of representatives of that nation is a "fascist?" I would argue no.

I am a patriot in the sense that I am proud to be British. I am proud of what my forebears achieved under the banner of service to their country and the ideals it apparently stood for. I am proud to be associated with the achievements of our athletes and I am proud to have been associated with the British Fire and Rescue Services and of my family's links in the past to the British Armed Forces. I am not a nationalist in that I do not consider myself exclusively Scottish, Welsh, Irish or English. A simple look at my "family tree" tells me that to do so would not just be nonsense, it would render about three quarters of my forebears something they weren't. Yes, I wasn't born in the UK, but then, neither was Spike Milligan and a whole slew of other famous and far more patriotic Britons.

What we share is that we were born of parents who were British, serving in British Armed Forces or working in British Colonies or Possessions. Perhaps this is why, when some "pop Star" like Morrisey, a beneficiary of the wealth produced by the efforts of those who, over the last five centuries risked life, limb and health to make Britain "great" and bring back wealth, likens patriotism to fascism, I am annoyed. People like him see nothing beyond their own prejudiced and blinkered view of society. Worse, by misapplying labels like "fascist" to anyone and everyone they disagree with, they debase the very real evil those labels represent.

Exclusive nationalism is a slightly different matter to 'patriotism.' I can be patriotic without being 'nationalistic.' As a patriot I can still feel ashamed of the stupidity of politicians, the ideologies some of them continue to promote or the appalling behaviour of some Britons abroad. Nationalists, on the other hand, believe in the superiority of everything to do with the 'nation' they are part of. Thus everyone not of their 'nation' can be labelled as 'inferior' or their culture decried as 'barbaric.' Examples are the 'tourists' who go to Muslim countries and engage in activities that offend local custom or even the law of that land - then demand exemption because 'its allowed where I come from.' Nationalism is what leads down the road to exclusion of some groups and to the favouring of sections of a population over others when taken to extremes.

People like Mr. Morrisey would be better engaged on pondering why, in modern Britain, one still finds a nation so divided that few, if any, call themselves "English." What is it about the way they have been raised that almost everyone you meet proclaims, on being asked, themselves a 'Mancunian,' a 'Tynesider' or a Scot, Welsh or any one of the regional labels rather than admitting to being 'English' or even, God forbid, "British?" Is this tribal identity relevant in the 21st Century? Is it the result of the sort of 'Class War' that seems to have been fostered by the politics of greed and envy of the last century? Or is it the result of a mythos with its roots in the literature of the 19th Century and Sir Walter Scott's (among others) wonderful, but often historically inaccurate, stories?

I'm a patriot. I'm British and I'm proud to be so. It makes me proud to hear the crowd in the stands singing the National Anthem with gusto at the medal ceremonies, and my German friends and neighbours think its wonderful that we do. If that makes Mr. Morrisey and his friends uncomfortable - tough.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The real meaning of "Multiculturalism"

Josephus sent me a link to an excellent article in The Spectator entitled "What multiculturalism really means." Written by Shiraz Maher, it is a riposte to an earlier post in the Guardian attacking "Right-wingers" for their "intolerance of 'non-indigenous' people chosen to represent Britain in the Games." Rightly, Shiraz Maher takes the author of that article to task. As he says, she is conflating two separate issues here. No one is opposed to immigrants from anywhere, what the majority are opposed to is those who come to the UK with no intention of adapting - note, I do NOT say changing - to the British culture. The sportsmen and women who are representing Britain in the Games are a perfect example of the kind of immigrant everyone celebrates.

Unlike many native born football "stars" who can't even sing, never mind recite, the National Anthem, all of those I have had the privilege of seeing receiving their medals have sung it with the crowd. This, as Maher says, is where the left-wing proponents of "Multiculturalism" go so wrong. They confuse the debate about 'diversity' with the desire to have a single 'monoculture' in Britain and equate any attempt to debate the real problems - and there are some very big problems - of 'Multi-Kulti' with 'racism' and immediately start screaming 'fascist' or any other epithet they think fits. The problem with 'Multiculturalism' in any form is that it looks remarkably like 'Apartheid' when examined closely. Especially when anyone starts legislating to enforce or enshrine the 'rights' of one group or another within a wider society.

When you strip away all the emotive stuff around "Apartheid" and look at the philosophy underlying it, you discover that, like the objective of "Multiculturalism" it was supposed to allow different cultures and different peoples to live in the same space, but not their cultures. These were supposed to be kept separate and to be allowed to develop separately. The English translation of "Apartheid" is "Separate Development," which is what multiculturalists promote in the UK today. In their books, someone from any non-indigenous group must be allowed to keep their own language, their own customs and traditions regardless of how this affects everyone with whom they interact. This has seen the importing of such things as female circumcision, "bush meat" (in reality chimpanzee), "muti" killings, "honour" killings and the sanctioning of abuse of women under the guise of "culture."

As the Chief Rabbi, quoted in the Spectator article, says, a "Multicultural" society is like living in a hotel. Everyone comes in, keeps to themselves and eventually leaves. Apart from paying the bill (the hotelier hopes) no one interacts or contributes anything to the overall life of the place. To create a society, everyone must subscribe to the common mores, language and customs, even if, in private, they may practice a different religion or preserve some aspect of their cultural background that is particularly important to them. To contribute to a society we have to sign on to that society, not retreat into some littel enclave where we can pretend to be 'preserving' the life and culture of the society we left behind us. This is what the "multi-kulti" proponents miss. A working society must have cohesion, it cannot function as a 'hotel' does.

What does concern me about those, particularly on the left, who rant about "multiculturalism" is that they are determined to preserve separation and cannot accept any form of integration as being a basic requirement of living in a host society. In more and more legislation pushed to "promote" multiculturalism minority "rights' are promoted at the expense of the majority. As someone who lived in the apartheid society that was South Africa, I am deeply uncomfortable about that. It looks remarkably like the legislation that enshrined the "rights" of the white population, giving them first choice at everything, from selection for jobs to residential land to education.

When I read the sort of article to which Shiraz Maher refers in his piece, I am also struck by the impression that, for the Left, multiculturalism has become a control mechanism in the same manner that apartheid was. It allows its proponents to keep minorities in tight little groups, separated from everyone else. The argument is that this way they can be "protected" and form "support groups" to maintain their cultural norms. It also means they can be manipulated and patronised.

The one thing that does strike me as very strange among those who promote this failed and dangerous policy is that while they want it enforced for the 'protection' of minorities in the UK, US and 'developed' countries, they couldn't give a damn about the 'minorities' now suffering under the likes of Mugabe. Odd that.

I know there will be many readers who will disagree with me, as there will be others who don't. I ask only that you consider carefully what I have written and what the reality around us is becoming under this policy. I want to live in a society of equals, where race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, creed are all irrelevant to how we deal with one another. I want to live in a society where the only consideration in the workplace is competence not who you know, your ethnic group or your sex and sexuality. I know this is probably Utopian and unattainable because it is not 'natural' to the human mindset. I am equally certain that this 'top down' legally enforced and unworkable 'Multi-Kulti' approach is not the way to achieve it.

All it does do is polarise and deepen divides - especially when it is exploited by individuals masquerading as "campaigning for equality" when what they are really doing is manipulating the system to their own benefit. And that happens among all sections of the population!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Another Mars Landing

It seems the 'high risk' strategy for landing the latest Mars Rover on the red planet has paid off, the rover is down, on target and operational. What more could anyone ask for?

I think congratulations to the NASA and ESA team that put it there are in order. Certainly the lessons of past failures, disasters and near disasters in past attempts have provided some learning experiences and these have been applied.

There are many who feel the entire space exploration effort is a waste of money. I think they are wrong on every level, the lessons learned in getting satellites aunched, men and women into space and now remote operated vehicles onto other worlds is all feeding back into things we now take for granted, but a generation ago were unimaginable.

We must continue to 'dare to go where no man has gone before.'

Monday, 6 August 2012

Another "Amoklauf"?

It's probably far too early to judge. There certainly isn't enough information available on it, but this does have some of the elements of a 'suicidal depressive' type of attack. The perpetrator has picked a group that stands out in his view, or stands apart from what he believes 'his' society should be, planned an attack he knew he couldn't survive, and carried it out. Beyond that, there are too many unanswered questions at present. About the only parallel with Aurora is that the attacker used legally acquired weapons to do it.

For the moment I think the only thing anyone can do is pray for those killed, injured and bereaved and hope that this is the last such attack we will hear of.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Beautiful Visitor

Managed to catch a stunning butterfly with the camera ...

Saturday, 4 August 2012

There are times ...

There are times when one can be embarrassed by some of the opinions one reads from supporters of certain anti-European parties. Most recently I have read statements that are so blatantly ill-informed and frankly xenophobic it has been difficult to believe they are being made by persons who claim to be educated and intelligent.

One of the most common is that "Europe" is a socialist mess, and the EU is all about "dragging the UK into socialism." Quite apart from the fact that the UK is one of 27 countries that make up the EU, to label the whole of Europe as "socialist" is to exhibit the worst kind of ill-informed ignorance. Living in Germany one quickly realises that the UK is far and away more 'socialist' at almost every level. The EU  may well be a 'socialist' experiment and ideal, but I think a more honest appraisal than any I have seen or heard in the UK Media would dispel at least some of that idea. My personal feeling is that it was and is a political experiment aimed at creating a cohesive economic and political 'power' to balance the current 'East/West' split that sees individual states in Europe treated as very junior partners to the USA.

That leads me to the next frequently aired opinion - that the whole EU project is a Franco-German attempt to recreate the Carolingian Empire. That view is frankly laughed at in Europe, and deservedly so. It also betrays the ignorance of those who try to read into the present something from the past. Yes, Charlemagne or Karl der Grosser was a Frankish 'Emperor' who united Europe, but certainly nothing like the current boundaries. Almost all the North German States, Denmark, Sweden and Norway were not a part of it, though they certainly traded with it and enjoyed certain 'protections' as part of treaties with him. Chancellor Mrs Merkel would be, I think, amused and scornful if anyone confrinted her with this one.

The latest and stupidest comment I've encountered on this score is that the "British" are not Europeans. Genetically, they are, despite the interpretation some now put on the findings of a book published in 2006 that argues the genetic lineage of the British predates the peoples who moved into Europe post the rising sea levels cutting off Britain from the rest of Europe. That is blatant tosh. It ignores completely the successive waves of tribes that followed before the Romans added legionaires from all over Europe and even the Levant, or the Vikings, the Angles, the Saxons, the Normans (who were also Jutes), the Gaels from Britanny and Northern Spain and all the various Flemings, French, Germans and others who have settled in the island since the Conquest.

I can understand people being anti the European Union in its present form. I don't like the way the Commission operates or the way Commissioners are appointed. I don't like the huge bureaucracy that infests Brussels and has tentacles in every other capital city and I don't like the way they try to regulate everything. But, unless you are terminally blind or so totally biased, it is patently obvious that everything Brussels suggests or directs, is immediately seized on by Whitehall, the largest bureaucracy in Europe other than the Commission, and gold plated as another way of guaranteeing the faceless wonders of Whitehall retain absolute control.

To see how they are doing this, you do have to step outside of the UK and the media misinformation there, to realise that the rest of Europe takes a far ore sensible and pragmatic approach - as is intended by Brussels. Yes, I am embarrassed by some of the hyperbole and outright misrepresentation indulged in by some in the UK, one commenter proud of the fact he'd never set foot anywhere outside of Britain. It is people like this, bigoted, biased and frankly ignorant that give the UK a bad name and make us a laughing stock everywhere.

Please, can we have some balance?

Friday, 3 August 2012

Now there's one for the SciFi buffs ...

According to the BBC news site, one of the many radio telescope projects currently searching for siigns of extra-terrestrial activity, has stumbled upon what they are calling a Bounce Anomaly. Television signals broadcast on earth 47 years ago and being reflected back to us off something about 25 light years away. A search by NASA using the Hubble telescope has failed to identify what is causig it. The scientists speculate that it could be a cloud of asteroids. If it is it would have to be a pretty big one.

According to the report the signals have been de-noised and digitally enhanced and the shows are not only identifiable, but they include some for which the 'Master' tapes have long been lost here. Evidently the BBC is working with the Arecibo Observatory team to recapture and process as much as possible. The spokesman tells us it includes some original Dr Who shows. Oh dear. I can feel a "Cringe Factor 100" moment coming on ...

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Tooling up for a fight?

In recent weeks, while most politicians have been focused on the economic crisis, the purchase, by several Middle Eastern States of huge numbers of tanks seems to have gone lmost unnoticed. When the Kingdom of Qatar purchases 200 of the high-tec German Leopard tank there are some important questions someone needs to ask I think. Especially if it comes on top of their neighbours, the Saudis, purchasing 600 of the same product.

Certainly there will be a long delivery period and I'm sure they will be spread over several years. These tanks are big, heavily protected, fast and equipped with a gun system that allows them to deliver and series of shells in a way that allows them to drop all the shells on their target simultaneously. Simultaneously? That's right. Six rounds fired in rapid succession, but each at a different trajectory, allows all six shells to arrive so close to each other the receiving target won't notice an interval. It uses GPS and programmable munitions as well, has a very small crew and, as tanks go, is economical and operationally adaptable and robust.

OK, so these two governments (and it appears several others) are making some sensible purchases in military equipment. But why? It is worth noting that the last Blair government review reduced the British arsenal of Main Battle Tanks to just 30, and Germany itself has only around 60 of the Leopards (though apparently a higher spec version than they are allowing the manufacturer to sell). Alongside the tanks, the Saudis and the Qataris (Total Population of native Qataris is 750,000) have bought new aircraft, placed orders for high-tec warships and other hardware. By my estimation there must be a personal tank, aircraft or ship for each Qatari soldier, sailor or airman! There are reports that the Omani government is also shopping and re-equipping.

I know the whole area is subject to 'tensions,' but just what are they 'tooling up' for? We know Iran is spending a vast amount of money on military equipment, much of it being developed with North Korea and domestically. We know that the Shia leadership has a longterm ambition to overthrow the Sunni rulers of Saudi and other Arabian peninsula states, but, is this the reason for this arms expansion? Or is there another intended target?

One certainly recognises that the orders bring much needed money and jobs into Europe, but I find myself hoping that the politicians in our western democracies - who are all busily cutting our own armed forces to little more than local militia - have noticed, and their various Military Intelligence gatherers know what is going on and who these buyers plan to use these weapons on.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Mind of a Killer?

In recent days both the Postulant and Josephus have forwarded to me articles concerning the shootings in Aurora, Colorado. The main thrust of the articles forwarded by Josephus focused on the availability of all types of fire arms in the US. I happen to believe that the citizens of any country, and that includes the UK, should, with appropriate controls, be allowed to bear arms. However, I have to qualify that. I would, most emphatically draw the line at the private ownership of military 'small arms' such as M-16 carbines and the UKs SA-80 which are capable of automatic fire.

Yes, a 'semi-automatic' can also be fired rapidly in skilled hands, but it requires the user to squeeze the trigger each time. With a Kalishnikov (AK-47) and with other 'military' carbines and rifles I have the option of using single round fire or releasing a 'burst' - meaning multiple rounds on a single depression of the trigger. In unskilled hands that generally means emptying the full magazine. I do not believe that a totally disarmed populace is a safer populace, but I do believe that anyone who wishes to own a firearm should be subject to some extremely thorough checks. I know there will be those who will wish to argue that this didn't stop the Dunblane tragedy or one of the others, to which I would reply that since the outright ban on owning 'hand guns' in the UK, gun related crime has gone up 400%, so have knifings, gang beatings and several other violent crime statistics.

You cannot say that owning guns would reverse this or prevent it, but patently denying the citizenry of any country the right to do so, doesn't mean there won't be any violent crime either. Yes, someone weilding a knife could do a lot of damage in a crowded space, possibly kill a few, and it wouldn't approach the levels someone with an automatic or semi-automatic weapon could achieve, but would banning knives (we already have a ban on pocket knives with a blade of more than two inches) be practical? Any ban introduces a whole range of different problems.

Which leads me to the second item sent me by the Postulant. This is an article entitled "What does a killer think," which addresses the mental state of killers like the man in Aurora. The first, and perhaps most telling, point it makes is that there is no such thing as a 'uniform' profile for such killers. Not all are psychopaths, not all are technically insane, but they do all suffer from what are, esentially, mental conditions. And there lies the major problem in any debate about preventing tragedies such as that in Aurora. In almost every case such multiple killers have lived for years in communities without raising suspicion, yet almost all of them have, for at least a large part of that time, left numerous clues to a rising potential.

As the article points out, the true psychopath appears perfectly normal on the outside, but lacks the ability to empathise with anyone. They simply are unable to feel anything for anyone other than themselves. Occasionally there is a combination of that with an enjoyment of inflicting pain or suffering in a psychopath and that is a truly dangerous one, but doesn't, necessarily, lead to the person becoming a mass murderer. Forensic psychologists and psychiatrists agree there are three mental conditions into which the majority of multiple killers fall. Psycopaths form one, dillusional ailments another, and suicidal depressive form the third.

Research has shown that in almost every case like the Aurora shooting there was no 'final trigger' to tip the murderer over the edge into violence. The act is a well planned, carefully prepared event, not something undertaken on the spur of the moment. As the author of the piece I have linked above says, a psychopath isn't 'mad' - they are hyperrational - but crucially, they don't care about how much they hurt their victims. Those with dillusional disorders are convinced that its a 'them or me' situation, and set about preparing to 'defend themselves' by killing as many 'enemies' as possible. The suicidal depressive hates the world, hates anyone they see as being happier, luckier or healthier - and sets out to destroy themselves and the supposedly more fortunate.

Can our societies ever be protected from such people? Can disarming everyone prevent such killers finding some other means of carrying out their ghastly actions? I doubt it, though I would add that stricter gun laws in the US might reduce the number of casualties.

As the writer of What does a killer think says, the psychopath is the most difficult to spot, the delusional is often either paranoid or schizophrenic and often both and the suicidally depressive may already be receiving some treatment. The latter pair often leave a trail of evidence of the direction they plan to take. One of the more recent US killers, left videos on YouTube and other websites. Another filled Chatrooms and some forums with threats and declarations of his intentions. Psychopaths are far more difficult since they are also usually very manipulative and extremely good at hiding their intentions. But, the signs are always there. If anyone is looking.

As I said earlier, bans give an illusion of safety, but often it is just that, an illusion. It would be far better to look far more closely at the conditions that give rise to the risk of someone going this way - and finding ways to treat it before it becomes a tragedy.

In the meantime, we mourn the dead, the injured and the bereaved.