Archive for September, 2009

It really is a jungle out there

It’s been alleged that Britain is proactive towards the international community and cares about all the vulnerable people out there but don’t believe it folks.  It’s a myth.

I’ve been reading about the immigration camps of Calais and about the way the residents there have been totally dehumanised by people who are supposed to care about human rights.  The people in the camps were mainly from Afghanistan and Iraq and seeing as Britain helped create the crisis then Britain, in any reasonable view, surely bears some responsibility.

It’s easy to get despondent but thank goodness for people like Green party leader, Caroline Lucas who said . . .

Rather than fulfilling their responsibilities to seekers of asylum under both EU and international law, the French and British governments are turning a blind eye to the suffering taking place on their own doorsteps. Home Secretary Alan Johnson‘s glee in the wake of this aggressive police raid is particularly disturbing.

“The plan for mass deportations of these refugees rides roughshod over the European Convention on Human Rights, the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Geneva Convention. And given that so many facing expulsion are children, the plans may also breach the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Makes me want to weep with shame.

To paraphrase Jim Jay from this excellent article, our own Home Secretary Alan Johnson took great delight in the swift and decisive rounding up of the happy campers.  Britain is refusing to take in any of the refugees in spite of the UNHCR asking them to give asylum to some of them.  Well Johnson has to consider what the good and compassionate citizens of Britain would say if he let more needy immigrants in.  And lord knows what the Daily Mail would have to say?  I mean, those pesky and bothersome Jungle dwellers were becoming an eyesore for the civilised people of France.  And Britain was shaking with apprehension at the thought of even more scrounging, sub-humans arriving to steal our jobs and our homes, to take over our beloved NHS and overrun our schools.  I mean we can’t have them coming here and contributing to our economy and doing all the crappy jobs and bringing in their skills and knowledge and stuff can we.  That would make us look even more dumb.

Sarcasm over, great shame on Johnson for putting public and political opinion before the needs of genuine humans.  And that goes for the rest of the sorry bunch and their cold and detached attitude towards the plight of these people including families, children.  Of course France has the right to maintain public order etc. but the refugees have the right to seek  asylum and these people have not been given access to the correct asylum procedure.  The French are simply sweeping the problem from one place to another.  Someone aptly said out of the jungle and into the wasteland.

It’s to their utter shame that Western governments are not only refusing to help these refugees but are treating them like criminals.  The British and French politicians are fully aware of the horrors occurring in Afghanistan.  They know damned well about the conditions that drive people to make extremely dangerous and high-risk journeys in order to seek asylum.  Who would got to dreadfully extreme lengths if they weren’t desperate?  Who wouldn’t try to seek a better life for their families when they’ve been living in holes for successive Winters with no access to education or health care, drinking water from disease-ridden muddy rivers and constantly fleeing from brutal, Western-empowered regimes?  Who wouldn’t?

Again,  who – wouldn’t?

What do we live for if it’s not to make life less difficult for each other? George Elliot

A Modest Proposal by poet Danny Chivers

Trident Talk

No doubt you’ll have heard that Gordon Brown has offered to cut his Trident missile-carrying submarines from four to three.  That’s an exact reduction of 25% so if the total long-term costs of replacing the fleet are estimated by the government to be around £65bn (disregarding independent estimations) and a quarter of those costs were slashed, they’d make a saving of £16bn, but maths being an illogical old thing, they’re telling us it will save between £3 to £5bn.  Well at least it would cover the £2bn cut that they’re going to make in the education budget.  That’s assuming they’ll use the saving wisely and not award it to fat-cat celebrity financial consultants or to pay off their second mortgages.

Once upon a moonshine ago, the then chancellor Gordon Brown was utterly opposed to replacing Trident.  He said so himself.  In some strongly worded words, he said, and I paraphrase, that the programme was unacceptably expensive, economically wasteful and militarily unsound.  He also said a replacement was against British treaty obligations.  Some time later he made a 360° U-turn and became passionate about replacing our wonderful weapon of mass destruction.  Now he’s making a U-turn on his U-turn.  Well, a quarter of a U-turn at least, which means we may finally begin to stop being in breach of the NPT.

I feel obliged to say it’s a good start but if Brown was a really, really brave man, he would cancel the whole deal and abolish the lot.  Then global nuclear disarmament would look like a real possibility.  We don’t need Trident.  It’s a pointless deterrent.  Renewing and maintaining the Trident fleet was never a sensible plan.  It never made me feel safer.   No-one wanted it apart from the guys in the defense industry – you know, the good buddies of the Prime Ministers and the Presidents who made potloads of money from war and conflict.

Now, let’s just end the whole sorry thing and focus on real threats.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t invest in our country’s security. We most certainly should.  But I’m thinking more in terms of imminently real threats such as climate change and unsustainable runaway dependence on fossil fuels.

Just think what good £100 billion could do.

One of the best things I’ve read in a long time

It’s actually a speech written and delivered by Written by Paul Hawken earlier this year.

The Commencement Address by Paul Hawken to the Class of 2009, University of Portland.

I have read it three times in a row.  It’s utterly inspiring.

Harvest Moon

The Autumn season is once again upon us and it’s a great time to appreciate and celebrate the fruits that Mother Earth provides in such wonderful abundance.

Today is the day of the Autumnal Equinox – or Mabon as it’s known in the olde worlde.  T’is a multi-faith/secular/pagan celebration and no single religion has the monopoly over this season.

It’s the time of the year when we gather our harvests, nature prepares for hibernation and we reflect on the past season.  The length of the day matches that of the night time.  Equal light and darkness.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if other things in life could be so naturally equal.  If only humankind would let in social equality so that the wonderful Earthly harvest could be shared equally and no-one would be hungry.

I love all the seasons.  Beauty, peace, drama and wonder thrive in all of them but Autumn is particularly vibrant.  The sun is lower and some of the most amazing sunsets can be seen at this time of the year.  And the harvest moon glows enchantingly at this time.

There’s nothing more satisfying in a mind, body and spirit kind of way, than getting out and walking on a crisp and fresh Autumn day so my usual message followeth:

Whatever your spirituality or life ethos happens to be, a merry, peaceful and reflective Autumntide is wished for.  Go outside.  Walk.  Don’t let the beauty of this season pass you by.

On Peace Day

Today is the 9th International Day of Peace but seeing as it’s now almost tomorrow and I haven’t heard news of any major breakthrough’s coming from the Department for Peace I guess it’s not worth holding out for any lasting ceasefires or global harmonic pledges.  Hell, the girls at work couldn’t even hold off the bitching for a day – not even for a couple of hours. What’s more, I’ve been trying to get onto the IDofP website since six o clock this evening but all it wants to do is pick a fight with me so I haven’t been able to see what the peace activists have been up to in honour of this day or whether I missed any one-minute truces.  I would post a link to their site but seeing as I can’t get on it, I won’t.   I could keep trying . . . if I was dedicated and all but it’s late so sod that for a game of soldiers.  Oh, wrong choice of phrase to use on a world peace day.

Well I tried their website again and it worked.  One hour before the day ends, it works.


Now I’m feeling bad.  They’re trying to build peace bridges between cultures, between people, between each other, and it’s not right to knock their efforts.   Ok, we can be cynical and say what’s the point or that we should strive for peace every day, but if the world had peace just one day a year, think what that would mean for humanity.  One day a year isn’t enough but it’s a start.

Like many other cynics, I’m of the belief that it’s pointless to go around feeling good and hugging each other for one day to give our consciences a 24 hour reprieve.  Holding one peace day a year won’t change the world and it sure as hell won’t bring about the much-needed mass ethical-cleansing of our leaders.  But I do respect and support the good intent of the Peace Day movements.  We desperately need to replace the global culture of killing with a sustainable culture of peace.  Who can argue with that?

On an individual basis, there’s nothing stopping us from seeking peace within ourselves and with those around us every day. It’s important to teach peace and lead by example for our children.  We should give our children a world in which they know only peace – a world where there is no alternative.

And you know, the Earth and the environment are closely linked to world peace.  If we cherished nature, we wouldn’t use weapons of mass destruction that devastate the Earth and kill innocent people.  If we cared about the environment, we wouldn’t use chemical weapons that poison the atmosphere and burn little children.  If we loved our Earth, we wouldn’t use heavy artillery that trashes the land, pollutes the air and the sea and causes massive human collateral.  Basically, if we respected our planet, there would be world peace.

The force and the strength for peace will come from people. And that will happen when people start to realize that all the diversity and differences we see of nationalities, of religions, of cultures, of languages, are all beautiful diversities, for they are only on the surface. And deep down we share the same humanity, the global humanity. Satish Kumar

The Age of Stupid

Big global screening event 21st/22nd September 2009.  Don’t miss it!

On the Beach

Well it seems like a lifetime ago that I was lying on a white sandy beach under a burning sun but in fact it was just three weeks ago.  And while I idled away the hours in the shade of the swaying palm trees, I managed to get through five books from my reading list.  Well four and a quarter if you want specifics.  As you may know, I love talking about the books that I’ve read so, true to task, I shall endeavour to bore fill you in.  Feel free to move on.

First book: this was the quarter of a book that I mentioned.  Before we left for our hol, I’d been reading a hardback version of A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carre and although I was three-quarters of the way through the book, I thought that it’s almighty hardbackedness might just tip the balance on my dangerously close 20 kilo baggage limit so I decided  not to take it with me.  But would you believe it, upon checking out the hotel’s delightful little library (two wooden shelves around the corner from the towel shack), lo and beholdeth! a paper back version of said book was sitting there, patiently waiting for me to arrive.  So I got to finish the book and I must say it was very good.  It’s an intelligent novel and the coming together of the final chapter is bleakly reflective of some of the many consequences of America/Britain’s blinkered and racist War on Terror.

Next book: For Tibet, With Love: A Beginners Guide to Changing the World by Isabel Losada.  I love this woman!!  I really do.  I read her first book (Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment) three years ago – the last time I took a holiday – and I loved it with a passion.  The Tibet book is equally witty and amusing, insightful and inspiring.  I am now ten times more aware and informed about the plight of Tibetans and the exiled Dalai Lama and Isabel provides an excellent bibliography of relevant books, articles and even dvd’s should you want to learn/do more.  And you probably will want to.  I did.  The writer is so endearingly sweet, caring and compassionate and clearly a very brave woman – and she’s so heartwarmingly optimistic.  Read her.  You won’t regret it.

Third book: The End of the Line: How Overfishing is Changing the World and What we Eat by Charles Clover.  This book will make you very angry.  Devastating and Crucially Important.  The three words that say everything.   All I can say other than that is just read the book.  It’s almost compulsory.  I mean it.

Fourth book: Blackbird by Jennifer Lauck.  I was reluctant to read this book  because I thought it was just another Miz Lit memoir about another child-abuse survivor.  Well, who isn’t a bit tired of this new genre of novels where the authors write about their pitiful childhoods in order to produce a story that will shock us and break our hearts. I mean sure, if life has thrown you a crap deal, if society has failed you and your childhood has been denied, tell your story.  Make money on it too. You deserve it.  Who am I to judge?  But everybody seems to be jumping on the train and what I don’t like is people who grossly exaggerate or even fabricate their experiences to produce their book.  I mean when we’re tackling such a sensitive issue as child-abuse, is it still ok to claim writer’s license?  Maybe it is.  I just find it a bit distasteful.  But then, is it distasteful to want to read about other people’s misery?  Basically, we all like to have our emotions stirred but when it’s a true story that is being presented without total honesty, I can’t help feeling I’m being made a fool of.  Lordy, I’m rambling now.  This is when I start to contradict myself.

Anyway, a friend of mine gave me the book so, duty-bound, I forced myself to read it, if only so that I could give honest answers when she asked me what I thought.   It wasn’t as dreary as I’d expected. It’s really quite tender and sad but it certainly isn’t flawless.  For instance, the little girl’s voice is often dubiously mature and deep-thinking, which evoked some scepticism but it didn’t spoil what was undoubtedly a movingly sad childhood plight.

Book five: The Shack by William P. Young.  A very dear born again Christian friend of mine gave me this book for my birthday and after reading the adulatory reviews on the cover, I really was expecting to be converted in a life-changing, Road to Damascus kind of way.  Needless to say, I wasn’t.  I was expecting the book to contain the answers to all the questions I’ve ever asked about God and the trinity and why bad stuff happens.  Needless to say, it didn’t.  The only answers I got were the same answers I’ve ever got from the stewards of Christianity ie just have faith, it’s all in the mystery.

The first half of the book was quite a page-turner if only because I was expecting an enlighteningly spiritual explanation of the universe.  The second half moved into theological/philosophical territory so pages weren’t turned quite so fast rather than read over and over until my lame brain comprehended the words.  It wasn’t over-heavy though so don’t let that put you off.

In it’s favour, the book was thought-provoking at times.  It had it’s tender moments and in all honesty, I quite enjoyed it.  But ultimately, the timeless question, “where is God and why does he allow such suffering?” remains unanswered.

There you go, end of book report.  If you’re still here, thanks a million.


Of Northeast Passages and Melting Ice

So the Northeast Passage has finally been opened courtesy of climate change.

Two German commercial ships have made the previously impossible journey from Asia to Western Europe via the Arctic Northeast passage.  Well not strictly true.  It’s been done before but the point is that thanks to the ongoing melting Arctic, access to historically closed shipping routes will be much greater.  Potentially, they have a short cut.  Commercial ships will sail direct, as the crow flies so to speak, rather than having to take the costly and time-consuming long way round.

This has two significant advantages so we’re told.  Firstly, it will bring about economic growth.  I’m not sure which countries will benefit.  Russia I presume, maybe Canada.  Lord knows!  No doubt America will want to have some.  I guess we all have a vested interest one way or another.  Whatever, we can be be assured that there will be disputes and some ugly legal squabblings over who the passage actually belongs to but hey ho, that’s mankind for you. Anyway, it’s going to improve someone’s economy and boost trade.

The second significant advantage is that because vessels will no longer need to go all the way round fuel consumption will be drastically reduced resulting in far less co2 emissions.  This is a good thing, yes?  Well looking at the wider picture, the answer is probably no seeing as it’s all been made possible due to climate change melting the ice, a bittersweet paradox if ever there was one.  Sure, it’s easy to think, now that they’ve got their shorter passage, they might as well utilise it.  It makes sense because it will reduce CO2’s blah, blah. And of course, every country should be permitted to use it on a commercial basis, because again, the reduced CO2’s justifies it.  But the very fact that it can now be done is a huge indication of the mess we’re in and both advantages – growing economy and reduced nautical emissions – are likely to be short term because no matter how many short cuts through previously impassable terrain we may find, it’s hardly going to significantly reduce CO2 emissions. As it happens, there are wider implications of a busy, bustling Northeast passage but in any case, where we gain environmentally by reducing longer routes, we lose by the growing trade made possible by easier access.  And climate change, which I’ve said won’t be significantly slowed down, also has a sticky habit of detrimentally affecting economies.

They tell us it’s still largely inhospitable terrain and it will remain a dangerous passage because of drifting ice fields and low temperatures and suchlike.  And they only have a two-month window, ie, it will only be possible to use the passage for a few weeks in the year when the sun is at its hottest.  I suppose then that the potential busy open passage is slightly pie-in-the-sky but then, if there is to be power and wealth gained, no doubt these challenges will be conquered because it will be the will of the ruling elite.

My question is though, although, during the Summer weeks that it will eventually/possibly be used, as things progress, there will be some pretty intense nautical activity there.  I mean if it is opened up commercially – and liberally, some monstrously huge shipping vessels are going to be passing through and this has to have an impact on the temperature of the water in that it will surely compromise the natural reformation of the Winter ice hence adding to global warming.  And then there’s the increased activity consequently adding to environmental destruction, loss of habitat etc. and just basically exacerbating the whole problem.

And on it goes . . .

Arms Trade Lunacy

For the life of me, I can’t get my head round the arms industry.

Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) is a Defence and Security Equipment Exhibition that is held every two years in London.  How delightful!  An arms fair.  A boy’s playground quietly supported by the government but impossible to regulate given the sheer volume of visitors.  And our dear inclusive government invites delegates from countries with abysmal human rights records to come and shop for weapons at the fair.  That’s comforting isn’t it.

Well this year’s conference started today and goes on for three days.  Three action-packed, exciting and, ahem, explosive days of messing around with great big Phwoar! boyz toys.  Each exhibit designed to kill.  Not a single namby-pamby human rights voice in sight.  Nice.  Just one great big titillating weapons fest in which the men of the industry gets to market their ware and strut their might.  I wonder if there will be any women there.  If there are, I bet they’ll be of the semi-naked variety coming in straight from last week’s car show.  Picture it boys, a gorgeous blonde seducing a Kalashnikov or a sultry brunette strewn across the front of a weapon of mass destruction with hand grenades strapped to her thighs.  Boys toys are just not the same without a lovely lady around to display the toy in its best light.

Of course it’s not all about weapons and brawn.  It’s an intelligent fair with lots of sophisticated spyware and communications technology on promotion.  All of which is designed to protect us so they sell tell us. Well what’s designed to protect us is usually designed to kill someone else and no matter how much those slick reps try to present their services and market their goods as a normal, everyday business, a gun is a gun is a gun.  And a bomb is a bomb is a bomb.  And a victim of the arms trade is too dead to be anything.

In their own words . . .

DSEi provides face to face opportunities to share ideas, discuss industry developments, conduct business and network for future growth.

Future growth?  Developments?  Sigh.  Looks like we’re not going to find that world peace anytime soon.  These guys depend on conflict and thrive off wars.

Yep, it’s bizarre but completely indicative of the world we live in that military delegates and people from the international defence community regularly get together to swap ideas and trade weapons that will be used against their own nations and their own brethren.  I guess sipping champagne, patting backs and doing business with representatives of any old despotic regime, not knowing or caring where the weapons are going to hit is nothing new.

Swimming with Dolphins

Well folks, I keep coming in here to try and get a post written but nothing happens.   Seriously, I sign in, open the page and stare gormlessly at it.  Lordy, it’s harder than you think, picking up after a long break.  It’s like starting from new.

Well I have to start somewhere so I’ll fill you in a little on what I’ve been up to.  The best part was when I spent two weeks on a lovely, sunny beach.  It seems like a lifetime ago now but while I was there I read lots of books, I snorkeled and saw lots of lovely fishes, I ate and drank lots and generally had a relaxed and enjoyable holiday with the family.

One thing I will tell you I did.  Well it’s kind of a confession really, a shameful admittance of an unethical activity I partook of.  I swam with dolphins folks.   You see, call me naive but I presumed that we’d be swimming with wild dolphins, in the sea, on their terms, with ethical, experiDSCF2382enced and authorised guides supervising us and adhering to strict guidelines.  I imagined that we’d be taken off in a boat to where they were known to hang out and were used to humans splashing around.  I expected to simply pop into the water, swim at a respectful distance and wait for them to come to us.  By choice.  Their choice.  But the dolphins we were to interact with were captive, trained dolphins and they were kept in enclosures.

So, did I stop right there, stomp my foot down and refuse to go any further?  You’d think so, wouldn’t you.  I mean I refuse to visit zoos and aquariums. I would never go to a circus that involved the use of wild animals.  I won’t even let my kids keep goldfish.  But no, regardless of what I’d come to realise, I still went ahead with it.  It was mostly due to the dismayed cries of my children and the justified objections from my husband who’d forked out the huge amount of money to pay for the activity.  But if I’m to be truly honest,  I still really did want to get up close to them.  If I’d known the situation before we booked I would have said no.  Absolutely not.  I would never have agreed to it.  Trust me, all the time that I was in the water with them, I was plotting a Free Willy type rescue plan. But as things were . . .

So, quickly moving on, I was surprised at how structured the sessions with these wonderful creatures were.  It was clearly a well rehearsed and repetitive routine of petting, hugging and pulling along.  The dolphins themselves were truly amazing.  They were unbelievably clever, superbly well trained, endearingly gentle and quite utterly charming and friendly.  But they were being bribed with food.  Basically they performed for us at feeding times.  It’s wrong people.  On many levels.

My kids said they looked veryDSCF2385 happy and for sure they did look very well cared for.  Indeed they even appeared to be enjoying themselves but they do have a genetically permanent smile on their face so I guess they will always look happy, even when they’re utterly miserable.  But top and bottom is, they were in captivity and I inexcusably condoned their plight by taking part.

There you go.  I’m not proud of myself.  Friends tell me to shut up.  They tell me that I’ve had the experience of a lifetime and I should stop whinging.  Well it might have been a lifetime experience for me but not for those poor captive dolphins who have to perform those same routines day in, day out in order to be fed.  Anyway, it can hardly be described as swimming with dolphins because we didn’t really get to swim them as such at all.  It certainly wasn’t the freestyle swimming experience we were expecting, with wild dolphins.  But heck, thinking about it, it’s even questionable as to whether it’s ethical to swim with free dolphins in the wild when we consider how popular and commercial it’s becoming.  The implications there are obvious.

I fully understand why many people dream of doing this kind of thing. It’s well known that swimming with dolphins can be therapeutic and there’s little doubt that it has a positive effect on humans. But you just have to ask, just how beneficial is it for dolphins, particularly those in captivity? There’s enough evidence to say that dolphins actually do enjoy interacting with humans. They’re naturally curious and playful. But surely no-one can believe that it’s ok to snatch them from their natural habitats and imprison them in order for them to play with us. Or indeed for us to be entertained. In captivity they are deprived of a natural, instinctive lifestyle.  They are unable to wander the seas, hunt for food, mate, socialise, play with their own kind.

Dolphins are serene, lovable and playful creatures with an amazing sense of loyalty and protectiveness.  It’s on record that they’ve rescued humans on many occasions and they’ve even been known to help stranded whales by communicating with them and guiding them back to the water.  We should respect them and allow them the freedom and dignity they deserve.

To the dolphin alone, beyond all others, nature has granted what the best philosophers seek: friendship for no advantage. Though it has no need at all for man, yet it is a genial friend to all and has helped many. Plutarch


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