Friday, 16 May 2014

There is Light ...

© 2007 John Anstie
[Posted in honour of the International Photography Month of May and 'Wordless Wednesday', being celebrated over at The Bardo Group]

Monday, 5 May 2014

Archbishop Desmond Tutu's Forgiveness Challenge

Dear Fellow Blogger and Reader,

I have to tell you about Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Mpho, who have started something. I feel that I have no choice, other than to promote this challenge, given that the subject is very much on my mind (evidence my recent posting over at The Bardo Group "Good Friday, Good Fortune and Forgiveness"). Forgiveness is not just a philosophical, theological or allegorical instrument of persuasion, it is instead being reviewed by psychologists and physicians the world over for its value in healing. This is probably because deep-seated anger, stress, resentment and guilt, may be emotional responses to life, but are known to cause physical and mental illness and personality disorders, if allowed to fester.

It is with honest intent that I recommend this to you all. The link to the site to register is at the Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge website.

Before you go there, I would urge you to have a look and listen to this interview with the very articulate Alanis Morissette, of whom I knew little before this point, except that she was a musician, but, relating her own journey of forgiving to her song-writing, I found a lot to understand and admire here ...

Do let me know what you think.


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Are There Any Other Civilisations ... Out There?

I have held a universal and, it seems probably a pantheistic view of our life on earth for many years now. It is this: that there are probably other intelligent civilisations out there in the cosmos, but, in spite of our continued quest to find some and because of the humungous scale and mind boggling span of time that is represented in the life of the universe, we will never discover one. We may not even exist simultaneously. I would add a small warning to those, who like my mother-in-law, God rest her soul, used to be, are mind-bogglephobics, or who simply cannot cope with the scale of it all, that this may be a challenging concept to grasp. Nonetheless, it does require a calculator with a large scale, should you wish to do some proportions!

The following is a track from his album, "Letters from a Flying Machine" by a very fine musician, singer and songwriter from the USA, Peter Mulvey, whom we saw and met on the weekend at the Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival.  Having listened closely to the words of his songs and one or two of his 'between song' talks, I asked him in our brief chat, did he by any chance write poetry? He replied that he didn't; he preferred to leave that to the poets, but that a few of his friends were poets and that he read a great deal of poetry ... to exemplify this, the inside cover of the album we bought from him, "Silver Ladder" reveals a brief quote from the 17th Century poet, Mizuta Masahide: "Barn's burnt down - now I can see the moon".

... anyway, back to the theme of this post.

The only thing I can do is ask you to listen to this story Peter Mulvey tells of a conversation that he had, over some beer, with "Vlad the Astrophysicist":

Sums it up very neatly for me.

You might also want to listen to some of this fellow's music; there is poetry in a lot of it.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Flooding and Political Flimflam

[This was posted on my Facebook wall earlier in the week, in response to the furore of political attacks on the Environment Agency. I felt much need to vent my feelings and also that it should be placed here on my blog, for the record - and I couldn't resist the above title!]

I had to restrain myself from an outburst last Monday, following the patently childish attacks by certain political voices against the Environment Agency for the flooding in the Somerset Levels, none more aggressive (and typical of its source) than from that well known pit bull, who was momentarily and, I suspect, deliberately, but later, regrettably let off the leash by his masters - give the little mutt, Pickles, a tickle behind his ear, folks (but no more biscuits, please) - like naughty children, who've been found out and try to throw the blame on their siblings, peers or those without the ability to fight back. Do they ever think about ... are they truly blinded to the fact that we can actually see through their silly, manipulative games, or is this just another attempt at a 'clever' smoke screen to shield some other piece of skulduggery that they wish to pass through parliament unnoticed. Keep your eyes peeled for another raid on the NHS or our education system or our freedom of speech ...

Come what may, what started this post was not only a feeling of total sympathy for those, who are clearly suffering so much stress at what's happening to their land and homes in the South West, but it was also about a simple fact that seems to have eluded many of those, who think they are in 'control' of this country, and who it is patently clear are NOT ... that the rain comes from the clouds, which are formed from those huge North Atlantic storm systems that are plaguing us with exceptionally adverse weather this Winter, it does NOT come from the Environment Agency or any other agency that the aforementioned pit bull is unleashed to clamp its overfed jaws on to break up, destroy or dissolve. It might also behove those self serving political parties to this furore to start paying attention to some other well documented longer term preventative measures, like reforestation and river capture devices that hold up some of the damaging flood water and stop it from sweeping down stream to more populated areas. 

And one more thing, lest we forget, the Environment Agency is strapped by regulation set in legislation by politicians, who, at some point, did listen to the people who elected them, which defines how much dredging is permitted without destroying wildlife and ecosystems that are so important to maintaining nature's balance. This may seem counter to the interests of those, who live on the Somerset Levels, but some of the weather patterns we are experiencing in recent times are giving rise to consequences that are far more powerful than human beings can control. So, politicians and power brokers, one and all, sit up and listen to the small quiet voices of wisdom that tell you about the irrefutable effects that our greedy habits are bringing to bear on global weather events. Yes start listening, carefully!

P.S. I wonder what effect Fracking will have and what additional risk of pollution would be introduced on water saturated ground? Just thought I'd ask ...

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Who is Going to Pay Their Dues ...

Enter stage right: plutocrats, oligarchs, privilege, inherited wealth, ideology, self-interest and greed for power by those with a singular ignorance and disregard for the lives of the majority...

City of London in the Rain, looking East © 2008 John Anstie
Most politicians, at least those in high office (and those with aspirations for same), have, it seems to me, sadly lost interest in the people they serve, assuming they ever had any in the first place. Sadder still, it is certain that the people have lost faith in them. Perhaps they're hoping for another Falklands war to bring them back some political popularity and make 'em into heroes again or, dare I say worse, some demonstrations in the streets of our cities, which they can then use as an excuse to clamp down with some draconian measures - let us not forget what is happening amongst the formerly civil and patient Ukrainian populace - but, I suspect, a majority are not in favour of either option! 

I'd also like to ask what happened to that parallel part of English law, which espoused equity*

Fairness, common sense, a duty of care, courtesy and respect are amongst the most important cornerstones of a civilised society, as opposed to one that's in danger of reverting to the feudal system of the Middle Ages. So too are the desires for the sharing of knowledge and the promotion of understanding, as well as for compassion toward those, whose birthright endowed them with far less privilege, education and opportunity than an elite, who continue to dominate the order of things, both politically and economically. But I for one do not understand the language used to justify what happens in the City of London (and in the other financial centres of the world), which sometimes appears like the product of smoke and mirrors; like the law, which sometimes seems deliberately so complex as to cause us to switch off and give up trying to understand it. We need far greater clarity, in a language that most of us can understand to explain the importance of this ... without the arrogant pomposity and the dismissiveness we've come to expect of the boys from Eton (and from those envious wannabe's, who sell their souls to the party line). 

I suggest to those who argue that extravagant rewards (and low or zero tax liability) for the super-rich, apart from encouraging ambitious young apprentices (aka wannabe's) to follow their footsteps, is the only way to keep 'em here, creating employment, that this claim is illusory; evidence the state the majority of the population is currently in, an increasing number of whom are still falling towards a poverty trap. When compared to the current height of many stock market indices, the activity of the construction sector, which customarily leads us out of recession and unemployment - despite the very recent slight fall in the latter - there is a disconnect with the wellbeing of the population at large. 

Apart from any other measure of the apparent health of the economy, there are too many honest tax payers, who are, quite frankly, pissed off with the utterly brazen behaviour of large companies, who manage to avoid paying tax and the equally brazen response of a government, who are too obviously preoccupied with their political ambitions, and their main party donors, to make no mention of the fact that they are still in government because of their coalition with an albeit very weak second string opposition. I believe there is a swathe of the population, who quite frankly don't give a damn any more! Because they are continuing to pay for the greed and rash behaviour of a group of people, who do not deserve to be bailed out, at least in the way they were in 2008 and subsequent decisions made about their ongoing bonuses. Previous governments (the plural is deliberate) should not have allowed the credit bubble to become so horrendously large and unstable in the first place. 

What we are left with is a debt owed to us, the taxpayer, by the banks in the UK. The original figure paid in some form or other out of Treasury funds (that's your money and mine, by the way) was a total of £1,162,000,000,000 - that is over One Trillion or One Thousand Billion or One Million Million in modern speak - how many years could we run a healthy NHS, education system on that and/or how much of the national debt could be paid off!! OK, it isn't that simple, I know, but would somebody explain to me why? When asked the questions: what will be the final cost to the UK taxpayer, the answer recorded in the National Audit Office web site is that, basically, it's uncertain; there are all sorts off caveats leading to statements like it will be a 'number of years' before the final cost to the taxpayer is known! 

The River Thames, City of London, looking East © 2008 John Anstie
In fact, despite my own reasonable level of numeracy and literacy, I found it quite difficult to understand from the NAO web site what level of 'support' is still ongoing, what 'support' actually means, what has been repaid and by whom, and what is the existing actual debt. Perhaps I should spend a few more hours there trying to work it all out or perhaps not! The only figures that are reasonably clear, reveal that the Treasury / Taxpayer originally 'invested' £66 Billion in RBS and Lloyd's Banks, which, at the last time of reporting (July last year), astonishingly still only, apparently, has a market value of £38 Billion!! So, looking at the current record performance of the FTSE 100 share index, that was a good investment wasn't it! 

What is also clear is that there are too few banks that are far too big, as well as other financial institutions, not to mention huge multinational corporations, which means that, contrary to the spirit of a healthy market place, we are in an unhealthy position that gives too few companies too great a market share to enable proper competition - ironically, I thought, one of the tenets of the Conservative Party's ideology - and, perhaps most worrying of all, a powerful lobby, and, thereby, a nascent, if not already realised 'control' over government to the point where they can dictate policy and even the law (who mentioned the Gagging Bill?). Let us not forget the meaning and the potential horror of fascism, one of several possible political extremes we absolutely do not want to bring about! 

I've never felt more sure of anything in my life, than that things must somehow change, and soon! But, whatever happens, let us make sure that change is far more equitable and democratic than currently appears to be the case! The power of the voters' voice must not only be made clear, but also it must be heard above the powerful minority, in government, corporate and media arenas, who currently appear to be dominating proceedings and patently guilty of ignoring that voice. One thing I am still convinced of is that Russell Brand's 'None of the above' philosophy is wrong in one important way: not voting would put us on the road to granting a greater share of power to more extreme political factions.

Enter stage left: common sense, integrity, honesty, some humility and respect for a people, who deserve far more than currently afforded them by those they elect to manage their country ... let the play commence.

Written content and Photos © 2014 John Anstie all rights reserved

* Equity is defined as the quality of being fair or impartial; also called chancery. The application of the dictates of conscience or the principles of natural justice to the settlement of controversies. A system of jurisprudence or a body of doctrines and rules developed in England and followed in the U.S., serving to supplement and remedy the limitations and the inflexibility of the common law.