Friday, 30 August 2013

Out of the mouths of babes ...

Sometimes one stumbles across some little thing when you are reading, that leaps off the page and tells you more, in a small insight than all the learned history of a period even hints at. One such moment leapt off the page as I read a book of short biographic memories of women who lived through the war years in different parts of Germany. One woman, now in her 80s recalled getting into trouble for repeating a 'prayer' doing the rounds at her school in early 1942.

It goes -

Lieber Gott, mach mich taub,              (Dear God, make me deaf,
Dass ich nicht am radio schraub,         [So] That I won't turn on the radio,
Lieber Gott, mach mich blind              Dear God, make me blind,
Dass ich alles herrlich find.                  [so] That I think everything is good,
Bin ich taub, und bin ich blind,            If I'm deaf and if I'm blind
Bin ich Adolf's liebstes Kind.               Then I'm Adolf's most loved child.)

It speaks for itself that this was circulating among the children, and that it terrified their parents to hear it repeated in innocence. What it does show is that the fear of the Gestapo, or of informers, was a major factor in keeping the adult German population under control, but that there were still brave souls able to think up this sort of simple rhyme which children would learn and repeat. The line concerning the radio also tells a careful reader that the ordinary German wasn't only listening to the official channels controlled by Goebbels Propaganda Ministry as the lady who recorded this memory makes clear, describing how, have punished her daughter for repeating the above prayer, her mother would take the radio beneath the duvet on her bed at night, and tune it to the forbidden broadcasts from England.

From the memories of the women in this short collection, it soon becomes very clear that you had to be blind, and the majority certainly weren't, not to see that things were not the way Hitler and the media said they were. You had to be blind not to see the abuses around you, and to not be aware of the oppressive control exercised by threat, by punishment and ultimately by being sent to a Death Camp. Even so, some of the stories contain other little insights, of farmers hiding refugees, of priests and ordinary citizens hiding Jews in the full knowledge that, if exposed, they faced imprisonment or death.

That this little prayer was circulating as early as 1942 suggests also that it had begun circulating earlier than that. Sadly, as the stories make plain, many of the children who recited it probably didn't survive the bombing and destruction that followed.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Middle Eastern Conundrum

Reading the papers and listening to the news on radio and television, one hears a great deal of self-righteous rhetoric about 'red lines' and 'international law' being overstepped or broken from politicians who obviously feel they are obliged to 'do something' for one side of the conflict in Syria or the other. The truth is that they seem not to be listening to their own electorates here. A YouGov poll in this last week showed that less than 20% of the UK population supports the nation's involvement in any military action in Syria. A similar Poll in the US shows a somewhat similar picture. So why are the politicians still discussing miltary action?

One reason, I suspect, is because they think it makes them look like 'leaders'. The thinking is that by taking unpopular but, in their arguments 'necessary' decisions and actions, they show they are in charge and on top of events. The reality is that they are actually interfering in events and affairs of which they know dangerously little and understand even less. What they are doing is simply creating an even more unstable and dangerous situation in which fundamentalism can and will breed like the proverbial flies on a carcass. The problems there are extremely complex, the culture completely at odds with modern Western culture and some of the problem is deeply rooted in the very nature of Islam itself.

The so-called Arab Spring has descended into a blood bath, just as almost all revolutions do, but this one is probably more akin to the religious upheaval of the 16th and 17th Centuries in Europe. At its heart is a struggle for dominance between the religious fundamentalists and the modernisers who want a more open and liberal society. One which tolerates those who wish to live differently to the strict Muslim ideals of dress, listen to different music, perhaps tolerate other religions or lifestyles. Ranged against them are the fundamentalists who wish to take Islam back to their idealised version of the 7th Century. The dichotomy for Western Leaders is this. If they support regimes like Assad's, which was anti-fundamentalist, draconian, but at least enforced some freedom of choice and tolerance, they are damned for supporting the dictator. If they arm and support the rebels, we end up arming and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, Fatah, Hamas and Al Qaeda.

There are some powerful voices of the permanently outraged moralists in the West who insist that only by intervening in some way, can we guarantee the emergence of a more tolerant western style society in Syria, Egypt, et al. Unfortunately, the majority of these folk are either anti-religion, agnostic, atheist or humanist and ignore the manner in which religion forms and moulds any society. Their vales are simply not shared by the vast majority of Muslims. Ergo, no matter what we do, it is unlikely a society like ours will emerge from this upheaval.

One article I have recently read suggests that some, at least, of the origins of the problems in the Middle East can be traced back to the progressive disintegration of the Ottoman Empire which started in the mid-19th Century and reached its conclusion with the sundering of its remaining territory in 1918. By that time many of its provinces had become the fifedoms of local warlords whom the western allies fostered, armed and supported because Turkey was then an ally of Germany. Post 1918, these same warlords became the various Kings, Sheiks, Emirs and so on that 'ruled' the newly created countries under League of Nations Mandates handed out to the British and French. Many of the boundaries between these new states owed nothing to population groups or ethnic allegiances, and everything to the need to protect oilfields or other 'international' interests. Thus were the foundations laid for the present conflicts, genocides and mass displacement of populations and even the suppression of other religions.

Since the various bureaucracies and political players whose forerunners created this mess, cannot now acknowledge their complicity in the first instance, and cannot now correct the original botch, they feel they need to address it. That will simply compound the original error and, if anything, make it worse.

At heart, this revolution comes back to the ideological. The city dwellers of the Middle East, by and large, wish to have the same things westerners have, stability, security, tolerance and the freedom to live their lives as they see is right. Ranged against them are large rural populations with a more fundamental view of how life should be lived, and that doesn't necessarily include tolerance of other religions, lifestyles or ideas. Behind that stand the vast throng of Muslim 'scholars' who see any diminuition of their influence - for instance, by allowing people to change religion, or at least hear another religious view - as a loss of power. The 'scholars' have their supporters as well, the vast army of ill-educated, disaffected and disempowered who flock to the fundamentalist rallying cry of 'defending Islam' from Zionism, Western Immorality and any concept of equality of the sexes.

I very much doubt that any of these revolutions will produce a liberal regime, at least in the short term. Our involvement will simply ensure that the regime which does emerge is even more fundamentalist than it could have been.

Iraq, Afghanistan and several other 'interventionist' adventures should have taught our leaders at least one thing - that the enemy of our enemy is NOT necessarily a friend. He may well be a far worse enemy taking advantage of the opportunity to advance his cause. Unfortunately, Whitehall/Westminster, Washington, Paris, Brussels and the UN never seem to learn from history. I suspect we are doomed to repeat the failures of the recent past here, but I hope and pray it will not be so.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Keep Out! Stay Out!

No, I'm not on a Fire Safety message, though the principle applies. The US and the UK need to stay out of the conflict in Syria. The UN does NOT make law, their 'Treaties' bind those who sign them, not those that do not. As far as I can establish, Syria is NOT breaking "International Law" (there is no such animal) though the regime there (and some of the opposition) seem to be breaking every "moral" code known to man. They simply are not 'signed up' to the treaties the interventionists in the media and government want to wave.

Neither Britain, nor the US should get involved in this conflict. We are not the world's policemen and all that can happen if we attack the Syrian Regime, is that there will be more casualties, more hardship and even less likelihood of a government that is any better emerging. Surely Cameron, Obama and the rest of them have learned this from Iraq and Afghanistan?

Apparently not, if the news media are right.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Changing Email Accounts ...

One could start by screaming and tearing one's hair out in chunks. It would probably be less painful  and far, far less annoying and frustrating. The reason? BT, with whom I have dealt for longer than I care to remember, despite a range of hassles and problems over the years, has notified me that, unless I pay them to keep my email addresses, these will cease to function next month.

I have, as a result managed to create a new email for myself with Google Mail, which is fine, but which comes with the problem that I cannot now change the email for this Blog to a 'gmail' address! Why? Who knows, getting in touch with anyone at Google or Blogger to find out is like ... well, let's put it this way, I could probably get to Mars with less difficulty. So, now I'm stuck with a Blogger Account that won't let me change my email, and won't allow me to change the primary email account on it to my new 'gmail' address - even though Blogger is a part of the Google empire.

To make life even more entertaining, I have now tried every trick I can think of (and a few suggested by computer gurus) to get my address book from the old BT account, transferred to my 'gmail' account. Don't be silly, it ain't happening. The BT system says I can move it to Yahoo. Tried that, didn't work. It also says I can move it to Microslosh Outlook. Don't want to do that even if I had Outlook, because I use a Mac.

So, it looks like I'm going to have to go back to basics, and find a way to print out the entire BT email address book, then manually re-enter the addresses I want into my new mail account. If anyone can tell me how to resolve all the other issues, like changing my email address with PayPal, various things I subscribe to, Blogger and the hundred and one things I seem to have a "registered email address" for - please let me know in the Comments - email seems to be a problem at present!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Pressures of Work ...

An item in the news caught my attention during the week. It concerned the health of white collar employees and workers today, and the fact that many are suffering "burn-out" early in their careers. Others are developing serious mental health problems and turning the alcohol and drugs as a way of coping with the stress of their employment. Rising alcoholism and drug abuse in many workplaces is a major cause for concern, but I would suggest that this is no surprise, given the demands placed on employees today.

Many find themselves on a sort of treadmill, where the only way to stay in their current roles and keeptheir income, is to take on ever increasing workloads and responsibilites, for ever shrinking rewards. For most an annual review is something to dread, it seldom results in an adequate reward through a decent rise in salary, and usually simply keeps them 'on board' for the across the board settlement employers and Union negotiators love to haggle over. The trouble is that 2% of the average workers salary is a lot less money than 2% of a Board Members. In real terms the incomes of those at the lower end of the pay scales are often in reverse once inflation and other increases in the Cost of Living are taken into account.

An unintended consequence of the Minimum Wage has been to push wage bills higher, and that has meant employers being forced to do one of two things, increase prices, or cut back on staff. Again, for those on the lower end of the pay scales, the differentials between the salaries paid suddenly vanished as the government pushed the lowest wages upward. Initially, the scales rose to match that, however, increasingly, they don't and more and more workers are on "minimum wage" scales as a result. Once again, the obsession with "across the board" increases based on a percentage of salary, is causing a wodening of the gap between the top and bottom wage scales, something our political masters and their accountant and lawyer friends in various Boardrooms seem unable to grasp. One expects the Union Bosses to be mathematically illiterate on such matters, but it should be obvious to everyone - but apparently not.

Longer working hours mean less time to engage with family or friends, and that is compounded by the "connectedness" of the internet which means that a boss can reach you by email even on a day off. Mobile phones mean you're always available and smartphones mean that you are never away from your email either. Take a look at the world we lived in before the technology revolution and you find that a day off was exactly that. The boss would not have tried to reach you to 'just check' something, it could wait until you came back. Now, of course, thanks to the desire of the Boards of many of the mega wealthy supermarket chains and one or two other companies, we have seven day trading. The politicians handed out assurances initially that no one would be forced to work on Sundays if they wished to observe the day religiously. The reality is that, if you want a job, and the employers says "this is the deal - you'll be on a roster and take two days off in each week, which may, from time to time, be a Saturday and Sunday", you're going to be a pretty determined person to refuse to accept the conditions.

As usual, the assurances of a politician are worthless. The only way it could possibly have been made to work as they intended, was to make the members of the company boards and management work the same way as their staff, but that was never going to happen. In one sense I am relieved to be retired and to no longer face the stresses now being imposed on the younger generations now entering the workforce, or trying to keep afloat in the morass. I am not surprised to read that alcoholism is an increasing problem in workplaces, or that many others are turning to 'recreational' drugs to cope with the pressure. The solution is simple, but I suspect it would take a major revolution in society and perhaps an outright refusal by the workers to continue to labour under these conditions to bring it about.

So, I don't expect to see any change in the forseeable future.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Churchill - sometimes scarily prescient.

The tide of history has a nasty habit of turning very subtly. I have recently been reading a book I have long had, but which needed lots of concentration and time to attack (over 1,000 pages) and is a slightly different take on the history of the peoples of the British Isles. Naturally, some aspects discussed are covered by the writings of one of the giants of world leadership, Sir Winston Churchill, and I find it interesting to cross refer to what he said on some aspects of the history covered by Norman Davies in his account, The Isles. There are some surprising agreements between what Churchill suggested would come to pass and what Davies is chronicling. 

So it was a bit of a surprise this morning to receive an email from a friend, one of those in constant circulation, with something from Churchill I have just read about as an 'aside' in the book by Davies.

"How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries!  Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy.  The effects are apparent in many countries, improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live.  
A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement, the next of its dignity and sanctity.  The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Muslims may show splendid qualities, but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.  No stronger retrograde force exists in the world.  Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith.  It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome ..." 
Sir Winston Churchill; (Source: The River War, first edition, Vol II, pages 248-250 London).

Unbelievable, but the speech below was written and delivered by him in 1899 when he was a young soldier and journalist.  It probably sets out the current views of many, but expresses in the wonderful Churchillian turn of phrase and use of the English language, of which he was a past master.  Sir Winston Churchill was, without doubt, one of the greatest men of the late 19th and 20th centuries. 
He was a brave young soldier, a brilliant journalist, an extraordinary politician and statesman, a great war leader and British Prime Minister, to whom the Western world must be forever in his debt. Perhaps most remarkable of all, he was a mediocre scholar at school and at Sandhurst, but his powers of observation, and ability to absorb the essence of cultures, history and complex situations gave him an ability to rise above mere education. In a sense he was a polymath, his interests wide and his knowledge encyclopedic.  He was a prophet in his own time.  He died on 24th January 1965, at the grand old age of 90 and, after a lifetime of service to his country, was accorded a State funeral.  We are unlikely to see his like again.

Friday, 16 August 2013

The Monster in the Closet

An article on The Medievalists site flags up an interesting point about how governments of all stripes down the ages have used fear of some threat to steer the ordinary people down the desired path. History abounds with examples where the supposed threat from some 'monster' has been used to create support for a war, or to drive a campaign for some potentially unpopular political move. Every dictator and autocrat in history has, at some time, used this device - but it may surprise many to realise that even "democratic" governments use it. In fact you can find examples all around us today.

The motivation for it is straightforward. A government wants to raise support for a particular campaign, so they need to create the fear that, unless the desired course of action is taken, something bad will happen to the nation. So there is a drive to create an "enemy" that is a threat to the peoples' sense of security. Hitler's classic use of this in targeting "The Jews" is a good example. First he resurrected the Tsarist Secret Polices' forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and made a great play of the passages in that which purport to require the mixing of blood from non-Jewish children to make Matzos. Instant "monster" in the community. Of course, what he and his henchmen were really after was control of the population, so they needed to focus on an "enemy next door".

It must be said that the British government did a very similar piece of work on the Germans during and shortly before World War 1. The arms race was expensive, so various reports were commissioned to talk up the "threat" posed by the German Fleet and Army. In reality the underlying reason it was necessary was the fear in Westminster and Whitehall of a German Empire that threatened British trade and export markets - but that wouldn't have played well with the populace. The answer was to play up a threat to "our way of life" by creating the myth that the Kaiser wanted to recreate the Roman Empire in Europe and "conquer" Britain. It was even suggested that Germany and the Germans wanted to rule the entire world and would stop at nothing to achieve it. Once the war started the propaganda became almost hysterical, with the Germans accused of bayoneting babies, eating the corpses and boiling down dead Allied soldiers corpses to make soap.

It has to be said though, that some of the German Army's actions in dealing with "agents-provoceteur" and supposed "spies" certainly helped the media frenzy, but what is often overlooked is that the British, French Italians and Russians weren't exactly squeaky clean either.Only now are some of the atrocities from the Allied side emerging. We've all heard of how the German's executed the nurse, Edith Cavell, but how many of us have read a single line about the two German nurses the British shot after a similar trial and using equally suspect "evidence"? The Bryce Report, commissioned by the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, is detailed and contains some balance, but does include a number of speculative statements and tends to enlarge on other instances where there was little positive evidence to support it.

Prior to the 1880s when the anti-German feelings began to arise - sparked by their success in the war against the French in 1870 to 71 - we'd had a very similar campaign painting the French as baby bayoneting savages, hell bent on destroying the British way of life and world domination.

Both of these propaganda images, however, have stuck. There are still people who believe that Germany "started" World War 1, and that the objective was to defeat Britain and take over the Empire. There are still people who believe that the French wanted to march across the channel and behead evryone who didn't support their Revolution.

More recently we have seen the Soviet Union and its satellite states paint "The West", but the US in particular, as the "enemy of the people" and as "undemocratic" (which must be the ultimate irony) while the US and most western nations raised the spectre of "communism", and communists having designs on your house, car, personal wealth and everything else. We thrive on "monsters" and now that the threat of communism has fallen away, our governments have found a new one. Now it's either "Anthropomorphic Climate Change" driven by "Carbon" and our need for transport reliant on hydrocarbon fuels, or "The EU" and the hordes of "economic migrants" apparently waiting to flood into the UK (and other western European countries) to "steal our jobs" after 2014.

In the Middle East and most other Islamic countries, the ever handy "Jews" are available as the "monsters" eating non-Jewish babies, stealing the food from starving Muslims, raping their women, corrupting their children and, of course, secretly ruling the world and controlling the finacial markets. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are the ever popular source for most of this monster building. At various times different "monsters" have been drawn by propagandists, the white community in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) or the white population of South Africa, the Maoists, Islamists, anyone on the "right" of politics is now a Fascist and so on. The main criteria is that the "monster" must be remote from the population you are trying to steer, must be fairly nebulous and far to powerful for any mere individual to handle alone. It doesn't matter that the average Joe Public is unlikely to ever meet the monster, just that they must think about it, worry about it and be prepared to endorse what the government says it will do about it.

We've moved on from Vampires, dragons, werewolves and the supernatural, now the monster in the closet is the racist, the churchgoer, the foreigner, Brussells (I have some sympathy with that one), the immigrant or the guy who believes in freedom of expression. It doesn't matter who or what the monster is, as long as enough people believe it affects them, governments will continue to create them. Perhaps it's time we all grew up and stopped believing in the monsters governments, the media and sometimes our own imaginations create for us.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Here's another fine mess ...

I keep promising myself I'm not going to get provoked into commenting on the mess "multi-culturalism" and the collective liberal-left guilt complex has got the UK into, but sometimes I just can't avoid it. This article in the Daily Telegraph really got me going. I'm not going to say anything more on it, please read it yourselves.

In my view the judge, who let of a rapist for 'his being naive and ignorant of the law', should be sacked. The legal prinicple is that ignorance of the law is no defence. But perhaps in the UK enforcing that today on an ethnic minority member is considered racist. The real trouble is that our political classes are afraid of confronting this mess. They know it is happening, they know it requires firm action, but they won't take it for fear of sparking Enoch Powell's prediction. The question is now; how much worse must it get before they are forced to deal with the mess created by Blair and his luvvies in the first instance and now perpetuated by his successors?

This is not an isolated case, it is one among thousands, the tip of a very large and very dangerous iceberg. It must be stopped, destroyed and broken up - but I suspect the political classes and the civil servants who actually direct the whole mess, haven't got the guts for it.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Home - Without Hassle ...

We arrived home again on Wednesday night, tired, glad to be home, but having enjoyed our holiday. Despite the Monk anticipating problems with the return flight from London, there were none. In fact, it was ridiculously simple and straightforward. Harry's place was booked, as planned, his 'check-in' was smooth, friendly and entirely without hitch of any sort, and the handling staff at Terminal 1 fussed over him (and we suspect fed him the odd 'treat') and took great care to ensure his loading into the aircraft was without problems.

No one showed any interest in his "Pet Passport" at the Check-in, the only interest shown was by airport security who did a check to make sure we weren't smuggling drugs or explosives in his travel box. Likewise, at Frankfurt, he was delivered to the Baggage Reclaim Hall for our collection, and noone asked to see his "Pet Passport" - despite being told at Heathrow that we would have to produce it  in Frankfurt. Judging by the response at this end, the consensus seems to be that the UK DEFRA crew are just being awkward for the sake of trying to make it so difficult to take your pet anywhere, you won't, even though you are in compliance with the law. That doesn't surprise me at all.

I'd have some sympathy with what they claim to be trying to achieve if it were true - but it isn't. Britain has a number of animal health problems DEFRA claim it doesn't have, but, as with most of Whitehall, simply not collecting data on something means, in their minds, that it doesn't exist. So reports of rabid bats and foxes in Kent are figments of the Media. Unfortunately for DEFRA, one day, some of the Vets currently having to keep quiet about this will get fed up with it. In the meantime, if we visit the UK again with Harry, we will do so by a simpler and less expensive route.

In the meantime, judging by Harry's reaction to having the freedom of his own garden, and the walks in the forest around us, his toy box, and all his "own" things to muster, he's glad to be home again. The trip has given us a number of ideas about future holidays as well and the Monk is reluctantly considering acquiring a Grockle Pod at some future point ...

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Getting Ready to Come Home ...

The Monk, Mausi and Harry are now just about ready to come home. Today we gave back the hired motor home and are spending the night in Reigate with the Monk's son. Tomorrow we must all face the perils of Heathrow, Terminal 1, and hope that the assurances we received when we checked with Lufthansa after our horror experience getting here, hold true.

We've had a good time, Harry has experienced a lot of new things, but is obviously missing 'his' garden and toys. IF all goes smoothly tomorrow we should be back in Frankfurt International by 20.30 and on our way home by 21.00. If it doesn't go to plan, the Monk is going to be very, very angry indeed. He does have a back-up plan, but hopes it will not be necessary.

We've enjoyed ourselves, it has been fun, but we are all now ready to get home and get back to sorting out the garden, redecorating planning and all the usual things at home.

For now, we are just holding thumbs DEFRA and their officials at Heathrow haven't managed to find some new difficulty to throw at us.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

More Travels with Harry

Travelling with Harry has been interesting, not least for what it has taught us about how dogs are received by different people. Ironically the welcome at the High Sung Mass in Tewkesbury Abbey yesterday included Harry's accompanying us to the Communion rail where he received a blessing as we received the Host. He behaved beautifully and seemed to be perfectly "at home" in this awe inspiring building.

He obviously enjoys being able to run off the leash in the park behind the Abbey and on the Hamm, the great water meadow sandwiched between the Old Avon, Mill Avon and the Severn. Surpirising is the number of people who haven't encountered a Sheltie before, or who are surprised by his gentleness. For us it is pure pleasure to watch his obvious enjoyment of each new experience. Here are some pictures to enjoy.

Mausi and Harry almost being blown away at Sennen Cove.
By contrast, the tranquil waters of Tintagel, The Haven, while above and out to sea, the wind was something else ...
Harry enjoying the cool tiles of the Quire floor in the Abbey this morning.