For atheists like myself, BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme often provides abundant ammunition. Both God and religion (the two things are after all separate) are the source of many stories which are tragi-comic, or just plain tragic. The latest slew of child abuse revelations in the Catholic Church in the U.S. (not to mention our very own Ampleforth) takes that ancient institution further into the realm of bankruptcy, morally if not yet financially. According to one of the interviewees on the show, it could be that the priests involved, acknowledging God’s omniscience, excused their depraved behaviour on the grounds that if God knew about it before it even happened then it must have had His blessing. For others, such paedophilic episodes may just have been tests, and of course at the end of the day the only punishment may have been a few Hail Marys and a quiet move to another diocese.
But why should we be surprised by these continual revelations? Poor old Pope Francis must be asking himself the same question. Perhaps he should look to the Bible. Remember Abraham and Isaac? Clearly God wasn’t much concerned with the welfare of the child then, who after his ordeal (being tied up and placed on the pyre of firewood his father had made him carry to the supposed sacrificial place) could be excused a good dose of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And then there is the First Commandment:
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me.” (Exodus 20:5)
Pity your poor great-great-great grandchildren! I suppose love comes at a price, which is probably what many of these errant ordained men of God tell themselves.
For more Biblical authority on child abuse, the Salon website has an unpleasant rundown here. It ends in the New Testament with the most singular example of child abuse in the Good Book – Jesus Christ himself. Good ole’ Jehovah, sacrificing his only son.
Whether or not the now infamous tape recording of Donald Trump using the N-word ever emerges no longer really matters, except insofar as it may prove yet again that he is a liar. For his core supporters it probably won't matter a jot if he used the word - indeed, his stock may rise even further with them, who probably use the word all the time. As for his opponents, they probably have no doubt that he used it, for the story is after all entirely believable. That Trump had and still nurtures a hatred for a prominent black man, Barack Obama may help explain his problem. Trump, from the days of his 'birther' campaigning never really believed that Obama was legitimate. Indeed, if Obama was actually born in Kenya that would mean he was not only black but alien. Would Trump have clinged to his accusations if Obama had been white? Yes, Trump says unpleasant things about white men and women, but his campaign against Obama was (and remains) visceral, and has followed him into the White House where he seeks to undo or undermine everything Obama did. Indeed, Trump would stand all that he believed in on its head if it gave him the opportunity to have a crack at Obama. Why else, for example would this arch-climate change denier sign (and presumably help pay for) a full page advertisement in the New York Times, at the time of the 2009 Copenhagen climate change summit calling on Obama to take tough action on behalf of the planet's future? One can be certain he was willing the president to fail (which, by the way, he more or less did).
A bit of casual racism for Trump is probably just another dose of 'locker room' talk. What's worrying is that he acts on it. But in defence of Trump his press secretary pointed to 700,000 African-Americans who since his election have now found work. This of course is balderdash. Many of the economic drivers would have been in place before his election, but needed time to work through. All that could be said is that if his policies benefit the American economy, they may also benefit black Americans. A big if and a big may, and colour blind.
For an excellent, up-to-date look at Israel’s illegal and cruel settlement activities, click here.
If Dame Margaret Hodge thinks that receiving a letter from the Labour Party telling her of possible disciplinary action is equivalent to some Nazi tactic – as has been reported this week – then she must be extremely concerned for the families mentioned in the story here. She’s probably been in touch with Netanyahu directly about it, no doubt giving him an earful of the f-word.
It’s not often a single politician gets the blame for a policy that crashes and burns. Of the exceptions, one thinks of wars – Chamberlain, Eden and Blair are all now indelibly linked to failure in that regard. In peacetime we have Thatcher and the poll tax and Duncan Smith and Universal Credit. But responsibility for what goes wrong is often lost in the Whitehall mists of forgetfulness, or in the jargon ‘buried.’ I was rummaging around in my old files the other day when I came across this piece I wrote for LabourList in 2011. It had taken years for a costly failure to be recognised, that is long after the perpetrators were out of office. I suppose it will be years – if ever - before David Cameron is brought to book for his mis-conceived EU referendum. Does government have a learning curve?
“The National Audit Office has published a report which exposes the £500 million of public funds wasted on the ‘FiReControl’ system – a plan launched under Labour to regionalise the fire brigades control system. The NAO said the project was ‘flawed from the onset.’ The project failed and we now have half a billion pounds invested in empty regional control centres, useless and redundant. How could it have happened?
I remember this scheme well. The FBU insisted years ago that it was going to be a waste of money – and that even if it got off the ground it would not enhance public safety one jot. Quite the opposite. I wrote to ministers, but to no avail. It was as if the trade union perspective was as passé as the winter of discontent.
Why raise the matter now? Surely we would rather the public believed that this was a failure of some obscure government or a failure of a rogue department rather than – God forbid – our fault. According to Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, “We will want to know how the department got in to this mess and why the taxpayers will be saddled with a burden of at least £469 million.” (Guardian, 1/7/11) I have to say Margaret, we were in charge – and the FBU’s argument was treated with haughty disdain.
This was a not inexpensive example of how institutional arrogance, the product of political hubris, got in the way of common sense. It demonstrated how we should have recognised the role our partners in the trade unions have in informing the development of public services. But they, the trade unions, were implicitly regarded as too heavily ‘producer’ orientated and thus only bothered about their own well-being.
Of course, ministers have to be decisive but we ended up making so many mistakes without pause it became an embarrassment. Our last five years in government became the embodiment of the old saying ‘activity is not a substitute for achievement,’ an epithet of managerialism if there ever was one. We were obsessed with re-arranging the delivery of services without asking whether our last re-arrangement had succeeded. Talk of a Maoist revolution – it was more like a flower arranger on speed. I believe that at the heart of this hyper make-believe activity was a nagging fear. It was the fear of – forgive me – an existential political emptiness, a loss of direction which could only be filled with management consultants and their unerring ambition to re-arrange deck chairs.
At the heart of the refounding of Labour we need an open dialogue with the trade union movement and many other partners (let’s drop this stakeholder crap – it means nothing to anybody). Should we need reminding – trade unions probably have the largest ‘third sector’ membership in the country? Dialogue means honesty all round and less of the patronising talk which tends to ebb and flow on all sides.
If we’d listened seven or eight years ago, it could be persuasively argued that the deficit might be half a billion quid smaller. But it wasn’t fashionable to listen to the FBU, a classic ‘producer interest’ union, even whilst our Prime Minister donned a white tie and tails to wait upon the Mansion House set. As somebody once said, it’s time to press the reset button. Endless doses of re-organisation are not a sign of virility. It is a lesson the ConDems have yet to learn, but once again, it is the poor so-called stakeholders who will suffer.
Afterthought: with years of managerialism in practice, how is it that the MoD can’t account for £6billion of assets? Fetch the consultants!”
There’s a good lesson here for a post-managerialist Labour Party.
Double standards abound in the press, especially when it comes to its treatment of Jeremy Corbyn. What sustains these double standards is of course a one-sided, ahistorical viewpoint that avoids counter facts. Why, this attitude has now even found expression in Benjamin Netanyahu’s own comments on the Corbyn wreath laying nonsense! I thought I would look into some background, and given his award of the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Anwar Sadat, I thought Menachem Begin would be as good a subject as any if we want to understand why mock outrage in the UK press is pathetic. We start with Begin’s funeral in 1992 (the connecting factor of the three pieces below is Irgun):
“Mr. [Menachem] Begin's body was carried to the site [the Mount of Olives] by former comrades in the guerrilla movement, Irgun Zvai Leumi, which fought in the 1940's for a Jewish homeland in what was then British-mandated Palestine.” (New York Times, March 1992)
“He had asked to be buried there instead of Mount Herzl, where most Israeli leaders are laid to rest, because he wanted to be buried beside his wife Aliza, as well as Meir Feinstein of Irgun and Moshe Barazani of Lehi, who committed suicide in jail while awaiting execution by the British.” (Wikipedia)
“The Deir Yassin massacre took place on April 9, 1948, when around 120 fighters from the Zionist paramilitary groups Irgun and Lehi attacked Deir Yassin, a Palestinian Arab village of roughly 600 people near Jerusalem. The assault occurred as Jewish militia sought to relieve the blockade of Jerusalem during the civil war that preceded the end of British rule in Palestine.
According to Irgun sources, the village guards felt surprised by "the Jews" entering their village at night and opened fire on the Irgun force. The village fell after fierce house-to-house fighting. During and after the battle for the village, at least 107 Palestinians were killed, including women and children—some were shot, while others died when hand grenades were thrown into their homes. Despite an original boast by the victors that 254 had been killed, Aref al-Aref counted 117 victims, 7 in combat and the rest in their homes. According to a count conducted by International Red Cross representative Jacques de Reynier, apart from bodies left lying in the streets, 150 corpses were found in one cistern alone, among them people who had been either decapitated or disemboweled. Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote that there were also cases of mutilation and rape. Several villagers were taken prisoner and may have been killed after being paraded through the streets of West Jerusalem. Four of the attackers were killed, with around 35 injured.” (Wikipedia)
It doesn’t take five minutes to discover that one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. The guerrilla fighters of Irgun are commemorated in Israel, along with all members of the Israeli Defence Forces who have died over the course of the country’s history. Just as we commemorate our dead. Corbyn’s mistake clearly was attending the wrong commemoration ceremony. But perhaps it’s a good job he wasn’t spotted at Begin’s funeral. Begin after all was a leader of Irgun when it bombed the King David Hotel – HQ of the British forces – in 1946, when 91 people were murdered.
I have been following an email discussion about climate change which started off with questions about what kind of preparations we should now be making for the calamitous consequences of global warming. Consequences which it seems some people are beginning to wake up to, with e.g. forest fires and drought hitting countries around the world. In other words, as our addiction to fossil fuels seems too hard to kick, how will we learn to adapt? Climate change adaptation will be an expensive business, and for some it will be impossible. Low lying countries, from Bangladesh to Kiribati probably won’t have the resources. Kiribati already plans to decamp elsewhere. Bangladesh is getting a wall (or a fence) courtesy of India – to keep Bangladeshis out of India.
An interesting but I think passé concern raised in the email thread is the question of moral responsibility. As a philosophical question this is fine, but as a practical question it is useless, since it begs for the creation of a just economy. If one believes in the progressive instinct of human kind, that with the application of intelligence and reason our species will eventually overcome hunger, war, disease, inequality, etc., etc. that too is fine – but when will arcadia arrive? When will all peoples occupy the same stage of moral, i.e. just equilibrium?
As things stand, in the context of climate change and as graphs produced by Aubrey Meyer illustrate, the imbalance between debtors and creditors in the climate change economy is practically (if not theoretically) irreconcilable (25% of the population created 75% of the problem). How in practical terms would the beneficiaries of fossil fuelled industrialisation compensate the non-beneficiaries, that is, the ‘creditors?’ Even if we could detect a genuine desire on their part to do so, the remedies currently offered fall hopelessly short. At least Trump is honest enough to say he’s not playing the game. Others pay it lip service but carry on by and large with business as usual. One email correspondent asked when will an emergency be declared? One hopes not to be around when it is.
Another strand to the discussion has, in my view obsessed too much with population growth. As Aubrey’s analysis shows, population growth in itself did not bring about the present crisis. 50% of the CO2 released since 1850 remains in the atmosphere, so the cumulative effect of emissions predates the more recent explosion in population. If (a massive if) future births enjoyed carbon neutral lifestyles, it wouldn’t be a climate change issue (but may well have other resource implications). So to address our current climate change problem through the prism of population growth is a non-starter, and merely exacerbates the sense of injustice felt in poorer countries who see population growth as a component of economic development (c.f. China’s abandonment of the one child policy). Developing countries say ‘You’ve enjoyed development, now it’s our turn.’ This is but a different iteration of the concept of the ‘just’ economy.
So in the meantime, we’d best prepare our defences and wait for Pearl Harbour. On current trends, we won’t be waiting long.
UK government hypocrisy doesn’t get much worse. The killing of 29 children on a school bus in Yemen has failed to win a condemnation from Theresa May and her minions. If the perpetrator had been Russia, instead of Saudi Arabia (and its UK and US allies) we wouldn’t have heard the end of it. At least the BBC news last night did make a point of exposing the government’s absence of scruples, making the point that our arms trade with the Saudis has benefitted since the war in the Yemen began. The last word goes to Tory MP Andrew Mitchell (he of Plebgate) who wrote in the Guardian last June:
The British government finds itself not on the side of innocent families who fear the fire that falls from above, but on the side of the perpetrator who has launched a huge military gamble
Anyone visiting Scarborough cemetery to lay a wreath could walk past the final burying place of Jimmy Saville. In the perverted logic of the Daily Mail, this could be interpreted as paying tribute to the late sex abuser. The scumrag Mail is nevertheless continuing to peddle its story – thoroughly debunked by Skwawkbox – that Jeremy Corbyn, some years ago on a visit to Tunisia, paid tribute to the Munich terrorists who happen to be buried in the same graveyard as some Palestinians, themselves victims of a bombing. To make their story even sicker, the Mail’s frontpage today ‘reveals’ how relatives of the victims of the Munich massacre are upset - as they might well be if the scumrag’s story were true.
I suspect that if as a result of this long, dry summer standpipes had to be erected in our streets, there would be quite a few grumbles. Mutterings about Yorkshire Water having the second worst record nationally in leakage, etc. But I also suspect that when a leak happens, many people can't be bothered to report it. It was the case with the major burst pictured here (this was a couple of years ago). It's the first time I've seen a group of young people with not a single mobile phone between them. I reported it immediately I saw it, and that was after it had been spouting away for a few hours. Nobody else had bothered. Now I have just reported another leak, admittedly not so obvious as this one, but one which scores or hundreds of people will have seen every day. Checking on the Yorkshire Water website, there is a map which tells you if a leak has already been reported, and there was nothing. So why are people averse to reporting leaks? Is it a big effort? Hardly. But I'm underestimating what some people consider to be a big effort.
Tory grandees are clearly livid with Boris Johnson over his remarks about some Muslim women’s attire. Not because they don’t agree with him – surely Boris’s antennae aren’t that out of sync – but because his comments have knocked Labour’s ‘anti-semitism’ garbage off the top slot. Even the Guardian had to relegate the latest musings of Dame Margaret Hodge into a secondary place. On the Today programme this morning the stand-out moment for me was when ‘Lord’ Eric Pickles, in full smoothy-chops mode described Boris as his friend but . . . his language was out of line, and by the way this couldn’t be compared with Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech. I love this use of the non-comparison comparison. Could it be called a false flag comparison? Who else actually made the comparison? The point is to plant the thought in people’s heads. I’m not sure Eric really is Boris’s friend after all.
I can envisage the scene now. Scarborough south bay’s golden beach is crowded with sun-seeking day-trippers, the sea is crystalline glistening, seabirds swoop overhead, leaving the occasional ice cream slurper wondering why their extra-large peach and vanilla cornet suddenly tastes of sea food. Then suddenly and without warning, a phalanx of black, wet suit clad commandos emerge from the water and scatter the crowds with tear gas and stun grenades. Panic ensues. Ice creams are flung into sand castles and seagulls snatch abandoned chips.
Oblivious to the crowds, the heavily armed commandos continue at pace up Eastborough, checking their GPS trackers every 10 seconds as they close in on their target. Soon, their destination emerges, it is surrounded and isolated. Carefully, as we have seen many times in Hollywood action blockbusters featuring special forces, a crack squad enters Scarborough’s historic market (recently the beneficiary of a £2.7 million make-over) and their red lasers pick out a cheery but somewhat startled criminal, known as ‘the greengrocer.’ He is zapped and taken off with a hood over his head whilst in the background the muffled sound of a controlled explosion destroys the evidence of his crime: the contents of boxes of ‘Pars’ supreme quality Iranian dates are splattered all over the shiny balustrades of the historic market’s brand new mezzanine level. Mission Accomplished (as they say), the U.S. Navy Seals retreat the way they came, bellowing ‘Make America Great Again!’, taking with them their captive the greengrocer – who’s headed for Guantanomo Bay (via an undisclosed rendition centre).
Yes, today’s the day Trump’s new sanction regime against Iran came into force and it's going to be BRUTAL. Does this mean that Pars dates (to which I was recently introduced) are going to disappear? These sublime confections must certainly be on Trump’s no-go list. For the time being I imagine they’ll remain on sale, as stocks are used up. Perhaps E.U. resistance to Trump’s reneging on the Iran nuclear deal will prevent the supply chain breaking down, for now. But come March 19th next year when the U.K. ‘takes back control’ what then? Out of the E.U. our glorious and ever so strong and stable leader will no doubt stand up to Trump on her own hands and knees, and say ‘No, Mr President, we’re quite able to withstand your pressure and we’ll stick with the E.U. on this one.’ Of course she will. That’s the new freedom we’ll have, being on our own.