Archive | July, 2012

Perception of who we are

30 Jul

We stayed up to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games on Friday. I had been concerned that the ceremony would be a bit tacky, but was pleasantly surprised. The effects and the staging were generally very good, and contained much that was quirky and British. That the Queen agreed to appear in the bit of James Bond film was quite startling! Rowan Atkinson for once amused me as Mr Bean, playing the boring one-note synthesizer bit from ‘Chariots of Fire’.

The ceremony started with the singing of William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’, the verses interspersed with snatches of songs from the other constituent countries, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It has always amazed me that no-one actually seems to listen to the words of Blake’s poem/lyric. This is the greatest revolutionary song in the English language, yet it is sung at their conference by the Conservative party and at Women’s Institute meetings. These are hardly the kind of institutions which want to shake society to its foundations.

Then there was the imagery of the visual content. Dark satanic mills replaced the bucolic British countryside, introduced to the strains of Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’. Kenny Brannagh spoke lines from Shakespeare while dressed as IK Brunel. There were suffragettes marching and a longish bit about the introduction of nursing and the NHS (That’s the National Health Service to you), with children bouncing round on beds. Mike Oldfield appeared doing bits from his first and best record, ‘Tubular Bells’ and Paul McCartney finished the revelries off with a rendition of ‘Hey Jude’. I won’t dwell on the embarrassment of the Arctic Monkeys bit. Overall, I liked the quirkiness of the effort and the stress on individuality. The Beijing celebrations were magnificent, but it did rather remind me of a Leni Riefenstahl film of the Nuremburg Rallies.

My daughter in law, on her first visit over here two months ago, on her return to China gave her impressions of what Britain and its peoples were like. It was very interesting reading. Now to the point, I would like to know what viewers from other countries thought of the ceremony and what it says about our ideas of what it is like being British.

Cultural differences

26 Jul

Last week marked the first anniversary of the massacre in Norway of 77 people, most of them young people at a youth camp. The perpetrator was Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing gun nut. During his trial, Brevik was allowed free reign to express his opinions and explain how he hoped to move Norway away from the path of democracy. Support for such politics has almost completely died away in that country. The Norwegian Prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, said that Breivik had failed to alter Norway’s attitude to open society.

“The bomb and the shots were intended to change Norway. People responded by embracing our values. He failed, the people won,” the prime minister told the crowds at the memorial in central Oslo.

The Batman shooting at the cinema in Aurora, Colorado on Friday left 12 dead and 58 injured. It has been suggested that the attack could prompt a debate on firearm ownership in the USA. Instead, there has been a significant upsurge in the number of people attempting to buy guns in the state. The Norwegians voluntarily gave up their guns while American citizens were busy arming themselves. Such cultural differences are worth commenting on.

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney used the word “evil” to describe the killings. President Obama has modestly suggested that there should be gun controls for those with criminal records and those with mental health issues. No doubt the NRA will defend the status quo. The question I would like to ask is why it is possible for anyone to legally own an assault rifle? This weapon is not designed to help defend your home or to go hunting with. The sole purpose of an assault rifle is to kill many people in as short a time as is possible. What is to stop an innocent collector of guns from going mad and turning them on his neighbours?

New review on Goodreads

11 Jul

<a href=”http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8664200-conspirator&#8221; style=”float: left; padding-right: 20px”><img alt=”Conspirator: Lenin in Exile. Helen Rappaport” border=”0″ src=”http://www.goodreads.com/assets/nocover/111×148.png&#8221; /></a><a href=”http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8664200-conspirator”>Conspirator: Lenin in Exile. Helen Rappaport</a> by <a href=”http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/146124.Helen_Rappaport”>Helen Rappaport</a><br/>
My rating: <a href=”http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/266971175″>4 of 5 stars</a><br /><br />
This is a well-researched and well-written book about one of the great figures of the early twentieth century. Ulyanov appears as a monomaniacal, intolerant, self-obsessed figure with virtually no sense of humour. His wife and mistress come out of this rather better, with Inessa Armand described in almost entirely positive terms.<br />I read this book as part of my research for a novel I recently finished. As such it is did its job very well. It is relatively easy to read while retaining the intellectual rigour required of a serious history book.<br />The first book in the series is available on Amazon: <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004VA3QRY&#8221; rel=”nofollow”> Troubled Waters by Jon Wakeham</a><br />
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<a href=”http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/7516207-mark-errington”>View all my reviews</a>

Honour and the law

10 Jul

There were two stories in the news yesterday. The first concerned a trial taking place about an ‘honour’ killing. The girl’s parents are facing murder charges and the mother changed her evidence, now testifying against her husband, the girl’s father. The second story concerns the execution of a young woman by the Taliban for committing adultery. It seems the girl was forced into a sexual relationship with a local commander. There was some dispute about her status with another commander and they agreed to end the dispute by having the woman shot.
Now if it seems that I am preaching against Islam, I wish to state very firmly that I am not. What I am outraged by are actions which are justified by the perpetrators calling on tradition and tribal law. There is nothing to justify such actions within the teaching of the Prophet. What are being called on are laws made over a thousand years ago in very different times and circumstances which only seem to be remembered when prejudice and entrenched power is challenged by moderate calls for reform.
A third story concerned the call for the creation of women bishops in the Church of England (Episcopalian, if in the States). A compromise that was mooted is that priests not wishing to serve under a woman bishop can be placed under the jurisdiction of another bishop of their choosing. The tradition that women cannot be priests and officiate at the Mass dates back to quite early in the Church – but not from the Gospels. That priests had to be celibate is a much more recent invention. In this case neither tradition directly relates to the core beliefs of the religion.
That a man can murder his own daughter because she has, according to his belief, brought shame on the family or that a raped woman can be executed because she has, by that act, committed adultery according to the tradition of her judge, are acts committed at the extreme limits of evil. There is, and can be, no justification for such acts. It is not possible to call on such laws and traditions while retaining any moral credibility. This is a vile perversion of any moral code that does, might sometime or has ever existed. Just because something is traditional does not make it right. Just because someone sincerely and simply believes in this tradition does not make it a necessary part of their religion. Even in the seemingly more innocent case of the women bishops, if the same excuse is being used it must be challenged and challenged again.
It seems to me that when such acts of personal barbarism are done it is to show where power actually lies. These are brutal acts of repression. On a larger scale, those who claim to commit acts of terror in the name of religion are self-deluded or liars. What they are trying to achieve are political ends. If there is any link between morality and religion then it is the duty of all clerics to denounce such beliefs. The justification is always claimed to be that such actions will bring about some earthly paradise. In a matter of ends and means, I should like to stress one moral standpoint. It is impossible to achieve good ends through bad means. Committing immoral acts corrupts the person committing those acts.
Almost enough of this rant, I just wish to make one more point. Civil law should never be linked to religion. We live in a multi-cultural and multi-faith society. Here in the UK there is a law of blasphemy that only applies to the Church of England. It is very seldom used. There have been calls to extend this to cover all religions. It would be much safer, fairer and simpler to remove the law altogether. Then those of all faiths and those with no faith could all be treated exactly the same.

Honour, law and religion

10 Jul

There were two stories in the news yesterday. The first concerned a trial taking place about an ‘honour’ killing. The girl’s parents are facing murder charges and the mother changed her evidence, now testifying against her husband, the girl’s father. The second story concerns the execution of a young woman by the Taliban for committing adultery. It seems the girl was forced into a sexual relationship with a local commander. There was some dispute about her status with another commander and they agreed to end the dispute by having the woman shot.
Now if it seems that I am preaching against Islam, I wish to state very firmly that I am not. What I am outraged by are actions which are justified by the perpetrators calling on tradition and tribal law. There is nothing to justify such actions within the teaching of the Prophet. What are being called on are laws made over a thousand years ago in very different times and circumstances which only seem to be remembered when prejudice and entrenched power is challenged by moderate calls for reform.
A third story concerned the call for the creation of women bishops in the Church of England (Episcopalian, if in the States). A compromise that was mooted is that priests not wishing to serve under a woman bishop can be placed under the jurisdiction of another bishop of their choosing. The tradition that women cannot be priests and officiate at the Mass dates back to quite early in the Church – but not from the Gospels. That priests had to be celibate is a much more recent invention. In this case neither tradition directly relates to the core beliefs of the religion.
That a man can murder his own daughter because she has, according to his belief, brought shame on the family or that a raped woman can be executed because she has, by that act, committed adultery according to the tradition of her judge, are acts committed at the extreme limits of evil. There is, and can be, no justification for such acts. It is not possible to call on such laws and traditions while retaining any moral credibility. This is a vile perversion of any moral code that does, might sometime or has ever existed. Just because something is traditional does not make it right. Just because someone sincerely and simply believes in this tradition does not make it a necessary part of their religion. Even in the seemingly more innocent case of the women bishops, if the same excuse is being used it must be challenged and challenged again.
It seems to me that when such acts of personal barbarism are done it is to show where power actually lies. These are brutal acts of repression. On a larger scale, those who claim to commit acts of terror in the name of religion are self-deluded or liars. What they are trying to achieve are political ends. If there is any link between morality and religion then it is the duty of all clerics to denounce such beliefs. The justification is always claimed to be that such actions will bring about some earthly paradise. In a matter of ends and means, I should like to stress one moral standpoint. It is impossible to achieve good ends through bad means. Committing immoral acts corrupts the person committing those acts.
Almost enough of this rant, I just wish to make one more point. Civil law should never be linked to religion. We live in a multi-cultural and multi-faith society. Here in the UK there is a law of blasphemy that only applies to the Church of England. It is very seldom used. There have been calls to extend this to cover all religions. It would be much safer, fairer and simpler to remove the law altogether. Then those of all faiths and those with no faith could all be treated exactly the same.

Honour, law and religion

10 Jul

There were two stories in the news yesterday. The first concerned a trial taking place about an ‘honour’ killing. The girl’s parents are facing murder charges and the mother changed her evidence, now testifying against her husband, the girl’s father. The second story concerns the execution of a young woman by the Taliban for committing adultery. It seems the girl was forced into a sexual relationship with a local commander. There was some dispute about her status with another commander and they agreed to end the dispute by having the woman shot.
Now if it seems that I am preaching against Islam, I wish to state very firmly that I am not. What I am outraged by are actions which are justified by the perpetrators calling on tradition and tribal law. There is nothing to justify such actions within the teaching of the Prophet. What are being called on are laws made over a thousand years ago in very different times and circumstances which only seem to be remembered when prejudice and entrenched power is challenged by moderate calls for reform.
A third story concerned the call for the creation of women bishops in the Church of England (Episcopalian, if in the States). A compromise that was mooted is that priests not wishing to serve under a woman bishop can be placed under the jurisdiction of another bishop of their choosing. The tradition that women cannot be priests and officiate at the Mass dates back to quite early in the Church – but not from the Gospels. That priests had to be celibate is a much more recent invention. In this case neither tradition directly relates to the core beliefs of the religion.
That a man can murder his own daughter because she has, according to his belief, brought shame on the family or that a raped woman can be executed because she has, by that act, committed adultery according to the tradition of her judge, are acts committed at the extreme limits of evil. There is, and can be, no justification for such acts. It is not possible to call on such laws and traditions while retaining any moral credibility. This is a vile perversion of any moral code that does, might sometime or has ever existed. Just because something is traditional does not make it right. Just because someone sincerely and simply believes in this tradition does not make it a necessary part of their religion. Even in the seemingly more innocent case of the women bishops, if the same excuse is being used it must be challenged and challenged again.
It seems to me that when such acts of personal barbarism are done it is to show where power actually lies. These are brutal acts of repression. On a larger scale, those who claim to commit acts of terror in the name of religion are self-deluded or liars. What they are trying to achieve are political ends. If there is any link between morality and religion then it is the duty of all clerics to denounce such beliefs. The justification is always claimed to be that such actions will bring about some earthly paradise. In a matter of ends and means, I should like to stress one moral standpoint. It is impossible to achieve good ends through bad means. Committing immoral acts corrupts the person committing those acts.
Almost enough of this rant, I just wish to make one more point. Civil law should never be linked to religion. We live in a multi-cultural and multi-faith society. Here in the UK there is a law of blasphemy that only applies to the Church of England. It is very seldom used. There have been calls to extend this to cover all religions. It would be much safer, fairer and simpler to remove the law altogether. Then those of all faiths and those with no faith could all be treated exactly the same.

Wimbledon, weather and grunting

6 Jul

We are now coming to the end of the Wimbledon fortnight. You can tell that because the weather is just awful. There is an amber flood warning here today. A couple of years ago a roof was built over Centre Court and play will not be delayed. Mind you, with the women’s matches I have watched I have had to turn the sound down. Miss Azerenko makes a noise like the air suddenly rushing out of an air-bed whenever she hits the ball. And I am very glad that Maria Sharapova went out earlier. The noise she makes is vile, like a stuck pig. This is a shame really because she has a pretty face with perfect skin, a wonderful willowy figure and the height of a fashion model, (did I mention she has shapely legs up to her armpits?).

Now I had a rather rude dream about Maria Sharapova being desperate to make love to me, despite the age difference of 35 years, my lack of height, fitness and good looks – I said it was a dream. The trouble was, every time I brought her to the height of ecstasy in my dream she started to make that noise. Now to delay the moment of my completion of the exercise I have previously imagined Margaret Thatcher looking at me, which seems to work quite well. This time I dreamt that I kept hearing a noise like a pig being stuck and it caused me to lose interest altogether, with immediate effect. Good looks can only take you so far. Now, Serena Williams…… Ooooh!