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Let reason be your anchor…

I firmly believe the average person in the British Muslim community is outraged by the sort of atrocity we saw in Manchester last night, in which at least 22 people died and 60 were injured, in the same way any Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist or atheist person with a shred of human decency would be; because none of these philosophies condone the senseless killing of innocent people.

But I expect the headline-hungry media will use this new attack, targeted at kids enjoying a night out, to stoke the fires of hate and suspicion which seem to be smouldering beneath the surface of the world’s psyche at the moment, encouraging division and distrust in communities who do so much to promote multicultural harmony and tolerance.

I fully accept there are a small minority of radical and violent members within any community and I am not naive enough to think for a minute there aren’t also a minority of supposed genuine Muslims who, while not applauding the actions of whoever was responsible for last night’s terrible crime, may not be as progressive in their beliefs as some.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the ones perpetuating the violence are doing so by citing archaic and outdated tenets of a faith which has in recent times, made significant steps in its efforts to more successfully integrate with Western society.
In the same way as there are far right Christian groups who espouse ideas about ethnic and sexual cleansing, take the word of the Bible unbendingly literally, forbid the teaching of evolution, ban abortion and birth control and are generally anything but inclusive and tolerant.
Nobody with any sense would say these “Christians” are living by the general principals of their alleged religion, they’re just cherry-picking outmoded views and debunked superstitious nonsense for their own twisted motives.

I personally don’t hold with the views of any organised religion which go much further than; “Be nice, it doesn’t cost anything. Don’t be a dick and, if you do, expect to get treated like a dick in return”, but we need to recognise when the ones who are doing the killing and spreading the hate are doing so for misguided motives of their own and do not speak for the vast majority of those they CLAIM to represent.

Stop The Hate, it’s up to us.

 

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The last rock ‘n’ roller…

I’ve been a huge fan of music for 40 years and over that time I have discovered a great many bands and artists who have stayed with me, such was the impression they made on me when I first heard them.

And when one of those cornerstones of my personal music heritage passes away, it always seems right that I should pay my respects somehow, even when the subject of any such tribute would almost certainly scoff at it for being over-sentimental nostalgic bollocks.

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Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister, 24/12/45 – 28/12/15.

My taste in music has always been eclectic, purely because (with the exception of embarrassing childhood purchases like The Bay City Rollers and Showaddywaddy) I have continued to listen to everything I have ever bought, so I’d never seen any contradiction in being a Pink Floyd fan who loved  Kraftwerk, or a Rush devotee who was also massively into New Order, although the tribal subdivisions of youth sometimes caused some friction, of the “you-can’t-be-a-headbanger-and-like-Gary Numan-too” variety.

All of which I ignored.

I didn’t want to be in their gang anyway. Or anyone else’s for that matter.

But then one band, one voice, one thunderous, gloriously over-the-top wall of noise arrived and for a while it was all that I listened to with my small group of junior metal-head school friends.

Even in an era where metal, punk and new wave were all still popular in the record shops and on the chart rundown every Sunday, this astonishing sonic assault was nothing like we had ever heard before and Motörhead soon became the very epitome of “heavy” rock.

And this particular blistering album by them was rarely off the turntables and tape decks of our teenage bedrooms at the time.

The band’s frontman, Lemmy, is credited with being everything from “the godfather of grunge” to “the hardest working man in rock” and was once described as having a voice “like a man who gargles with hot gravel”, but however the media portray him he has only ever described Motörhead as a rock ‘n’ roll band and has repeatedly corrected journalists who labelled them as “Heavy Metal”.

Lemmy did, after all, first find success in another of my all time favourite bands, Hawkwind, the stoner space rock collective who would eventually sack him for reliability issues brought on by his already herculean intake of amphetamines, resulting in his subsequent speed-related arrest on the Canadian border whilst on tour with them in the late ’70s.

Here he is playing with his trademark thundering bass style on perennial Hawks crowd pleaser, Silver Machine…

Undeterred, Lemmy formed Motörhead a few years later and has been fronting the rotating line-up ever since; their style never changing from the original frantic, bass strumming, drum galloping, speed soloing, throat shredding, grimy rock bulldozer that finally found them international fame with the archetypal Lemmy tune, Ace of Spades.

Seemingly indestructible for the last three decades or more, Lemmy Kilmister died today, only a short time after being diagnosed with cancer.

It’ll be a long time until someone who so perfectly embodies the term “rock ‘n’ roller” comes along again and the world will be a less entertaining place for his passing.

Killed By Death, indeed.

Like I said, he wouldn’t have given a toss about any fawning retrospectives on his contribution to music, so I’ll leave you with the best possible tribute to one of the world’s last real monsters of rock; the man in his own words.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Lemmy: The Movie, enjoy.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on December 29, 2015 in Arts, Music, Personal anecdote, Video

 

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On the turning away…

I doubt this is the first post you’ve read today on this subject and I’m sure it won’t be the last, so maybe that means I shouldn’t even bother.

You might even see what it’s about and scroll on past. After all, I’m sure you all have busy lives and you only have so much time to spend on the internet.

“Compassion fatigue”, I think that’s the phrase somebody once coined to describe the phenomenon.
In a world so filled with tragedy and injustice, we, as a society, merely the more fortunate spectators of other people’s distress, become hardened and inured to their suffering, somehow managing to push them to the back of our minds, just another unpleasant statistic.

But the situation in which Europe finds itself today is not something we can turn our faces away from, the sheer weight of human destitution and degradation that plays out on our television screens daily cannot be ignored or shrugged off as “not our problem”, not when we are all supposed to be part of the same global community.

The refugee crisis that now faces our world is second only to the evacuation of civilians during the holocaust of the second world war, when millions of people were tortured, murdered and persecuted under the Nazi and Soviet regimes.
During that time, public opinion was so strong that a huge mobilisation of aid began, culminating in the formation of the Kindertransport, a series of humanitarian rescue missions which brought up to 10,000 children across war-torn Europe to the safety of the UK.
These innocent victims, many of them Jews who had escaped extermination by Hitler’s death squads, had already suffered terribly at the hands of the advancing forces which had invaded their homelands and the majority of them would never see their families again, their parents murdered in places with names that will forever live in international infamy;  Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka.

The children, most of whom arrived by train at London’s Liverpool Street station, were welcomed by a charitable nation, now itself at war with Germany, were clothed, fed, educated and cared for, staying with volunteer foster families or at hostels which were set up in hotels, farms and schools around Britain.
Not only were these refugees given respite from the suffering they had endured in their native countries, but after the war they were allowed to remain here permanently and were given British citizenship, or relocated to Canada, Israel, America and Australia where they were finally able to make new lives for themselves, albeit as orphans from the most destructive conflict in human history.

Fast forward seventy years and look at how far we’ve come since those days:
We no longer live in the blitz-ravaged and impoverished post-war nation we inhabited back then; despite the minor inconvenience of enforced “austerity” brought about by the worldwide financial meltdown of a few years ago, we are still a prosperous country which benefits from all the material trappings of western civilisation; our lives, for the most part, are comparatively easy and trouble-free, our needs catered for by a welfare state that so many brave men and women died to protect from those who would enslave us.
And yet the spirit of global charity and accepted duty of care that we once showed to others less fortunate than ourselves seems to have declined exponentially in relation to our increase in wealth and prosperity.

At least that would appear to be the case if some of the right-wing press and hate-filled posts on social media are to be believed.

The number of vitriolic newspaper headlines, status updates and rabble-rousing political speeches denouncing displaced migrants and refugees as “lazy spongers”, “scroungers”, “benefit cheats” and, paradoxically, undeserving recipients of “British jobs” grows every day, despite the compelling evidence that a great many of those requesting asylum are fleeing persecution, incarceration, torture or even death in their own countries.

The weasel words of politicians and journalists, who claim the country is “full” and therefore unable to accept a few thousand extra members into our already rich, multi-cultural society, most of whom are simply looking for a safe place to work hard and raise families, make me almost ashamed to be British sometimes.

Many of those children who were rescued by the Kindertransport in Europe’s darkest days not only went on to become valuable and hard working members of society, some actually volunteered for the armed forces and died fighting for the country that had taken them in during their hour of need.
Any of those that survived, looking at their adopted country now, must despair at the neglect and misanthropy shown by some that share the land they swore to defend.

It seems that only in the last few days has the enormity of the crisis sunk in to the national consciousness, and then only at the price of adding one more innocent life to the toll of those needlessly sacrificed, this time on a beach usually thronged by holidaying tourists.
Aylan Kurdi, a three year old boy who travelled to Turkey with his family to escape ISIS and the brutal situation in Syria, drowned in his father’s arms, along with his five year old brother and their mother, when their small boat capsized on the final leg of a journey that should have saved them from a life most of us cannot imagine.

Only the heartbreaking photo of an aid worker carrying Aylan’s lifeless body away from the spot where he was found, washed up on the shore of a foreign land he knew nothing about, now seems to have galvanised our unforgivably slow-moving government (finally bowing to an increasing public outcry) into taking action.

Too little, too late.

It has once more fallen to private citizens and charity organisations to take on the responsibilities that we would usually expect to be shouldered by the state; many UK families and local authorities unilaterally offering places for refugees to stay and settling up collections of basic essentials, to be distributed amongst those still trapped in the transit camps, both in the middle east and Europe.

{The problem isn’t only in Europe, see a report on another disturbing story HERE}

The next step should be doing something about the estimated 11 MILLION empty properties, enough to put a huge dent in not only the current refugee crisis but also the domestic homelessness problem that has plagued many countries on the continent for years.

In the seventy years since the end of a war that decimated whole countries in Europe, I don’t believe that the charitable spirit of the British people which demanded the humanitarian rescue of holocaust victims has deteriorated to the point of not caring about displaced and persecuted refugees, but the continuous drip-drip-drip of negativity in the press and the rise of bigoted hate groups, especially on social media, has had the knock-on effect of making us question the legitimacy of genuine claims for asylum, no matter how horrific evidence to the contrary may be.

It’s a sad day indeed when it takes the hopeless grief of a broken father, burying his entire family in the full glare of the news media, to make us remember that we need to remain human and compassionate, despite the inescapable fact that, if not for an accident of birth, that could have been you or I, paying the ultimate price for the sake of freedom.

I will leave the last word to Pink Floyd and the song from which I borrowed the title of this post: “On The Turning Away”.

[Should you wish to assist in the aid effort, please consider donating to The Red Cross or to the independent charity Calaid, set up to help refugees still caught up in the transit camps in Calais.]

 

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Keep poking the elephants…

Why do we write?

Why do we feel the need to make ourselves heard, we who call ourselves bloggers, journalists, pundits, satirists, topical commentators and cartoonists?

Why do we choose to broadcast our inner thoughts to the world, assuming the mantle of unelected spokesmen for those who remain silent?
Do we have the right to speak for them, just because they won’t speak for themselves, or are we ascribing a set of values to the silent majority that they simply do not share?

After all, we don’t all claim great socio-political insights or expertise in current affairs, (at least I don’t) most of us are just like everyone else who feels outraged by the unjustified and cowardly actions of despots, dictators, terrorists and murderers.The only difference is that when something in the news pisses us off, we use our posts, columns, pictures and words to fight back, registering our displeasure, pointing out injustice, or paying our respects in the best way we can.

Whether that means railing against the perversion of religious ideologies for twisted personal agendas, highlighting the ineptitude, stupidity and corruption of our political overlords, or simply pointing out the idiotic and offensive behaviour of those individuals in our society that we would rather not be associated with, one thing we all have in common is the wish to share our beliefs and ideas with anyone who has the time and inclination to read, watch or listen to them.

But should this need to be heard by the world at large mark us out as legitimate targets for the ones at whom we’re directing our unsolicited opinions, or should we, like medics on a battlefield, be considered neutral and somehow immune to the violent attentions of our persecutors?

I can barely even begin to imagine the abject terror that must have been felt by the Charlie Hebdo staff and their police protectors, whose lives were brutally cut short by men who so clearly fail to represent the values of a religion they claim they are defending.
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The idea that the teachings of any faith would allow for the indiscriminate slaughter of unarmed civilians, just because they were able to see the funny side of outdated theistic dogma, strikes me as the ultimate insult to the belief system they are allegedly defending.
Surely if you were to consult with almost any religious leader, irrespective of their denomination, they would all cite inclusion and love as the primary building blocks of their faith.
Islamic scholar, Dr. Khaled Hanafy, was in fact today quoted as saying;
” I call on Muslims to stage demonstrations that denounce this aggression. I urge Muslim Imams and leaders to take all the necessary actions to denounce the incident, to reassure the Europe community, to actively participate in protecting Europe media institutions against any threat and to denounce extremism and terror.”

We should by now be far beyond the point at which we need to violently disagree with something as nebulous as personal faith, force others to hold similar beliefs to ourselves, or deny them the right to question belief in whatever deity we choose to worship, because that only serves to increase and accentuate the divide between different cultures.
That diversity is something which will only get more widespread as our communities absorb more diverse colours, creeds and religions, making it a richer and ever more fascinating society in which to live.

The need that some of us have to broadcast our views on these topics, in a rational, non-confrontational and humorous way, should in no way be proscribed by the ones responsible for preaching the words of their chosen religion, no matter how much they disapprove of our arguments, for only through open discussion can we hope to achieve any understanding of how others see the world.

So I for one will never give in to the bullying tactics of zealots or fundamentalists, be they religious, social or political.
Not that I’m comparing myself to the courageous and dedicated staff of Charlie Hebdo or other publications that routinely brave the irrational hatred of the evil minority, but I will continue to proudly wave the flag for those of us that who aren’t afraid to occasionally poke the elephant in the room with a long pointy stick.

And I hope you’ll all keep doing the same.

 
 

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Never give in…

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I rarely post material that isn’t my own, but in the spirit of the solidarity shown by the French people this evening, following the appalling events in Paris, I am reproducing this cartoon as a mark of respect.

We should never be afraid to speak our minds and never surrender to intimidation.

In memory of the editing staff at Charlie Hebdo and the two police officers protecting them.

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{Cartoon via Channel 4 News}

 
15 Comments

Posted by on January 7, 2015 in Arts, Blogging, Social comment

 

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Rights, wrongs, guns, God and the wisdom of Lisa…

It doesn’t take a lot to distract me from a train of thought, (as anyone who has ever read this blog will be painfully aware) so it shouldn’t really come as a surprise to you that, since I first hit upon a topic for this weekend’s post, my magpie mind has been turned this way and that by the innumerable bright, shiny things that we all have access to via the wonder (curse?) of mass-media and the Weird Wide Web.

The problem with the internet in general, and social media in particular, is that it has become more and more a tool that people use to influence opinion, rather than just air their views, on anything from tinfoil-helmeted conspiracy theories and medical quackery, right up to human rights, lawmaking and constitutional reform.

And all the fucking cats, obviously.

Which may explain the increase in posts by many of my American friends on Facebook recently, concerning two obviously hot topics that seem to prompt equally emotional responses from both the pro- and anti- side of the equation.

Now I can’t vouch for the whole of the UK, but I think that over here, very broadly speaking, Barack Obama is seen as a fairly decent, sincere and rational man whose presidency is largely a force for good. (Before I incite a barrage of political invective from across the Atlantic, I will happily admit that my grasp of the larger American political system is that of an interested but slightly bewildered observer and I claim no deep insight into the socio-political workings of the Land of Opportunity)
But to read some of the things that otherwise seemingly reasonable folks say about him on the internet, you’d think he was Satan himself, come to take away your freedoms and eat one or two of your children if he thought he could get away with it.

Quite a lot of people seem currently fixated on the idea that he’s on a crusade to remove their inalienable, God-given, constitutional right to go around tooled-up to the eyeballs with whatever hand held artillery they can carry, even when doing something as mundane as going to the grocery store or visiting the local burger joint.

In Texas especially, feelings were running high when the ironically named Target group announced it would allow advocates of the Open Carry laws to bring pretty much whatever weapon they liked with them to do the weekly shop.

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Target – “Well, some of those TV dinners can get downright ornery.”

However, in a gratifying case of bowing to public pressure, including that applied via social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, Target have done a U-turn on that decision, leading to a raft of protests by open carry enthusiasts who can’t bring themselves to walk down the mean aisles of the mall without their trusty assault rifle to protect them from……..well, the hordes of heavily armed shoppers presumably.

Again, I’m not claiming to speak for the majority of my nation when I say this, but if I walked into Tesco and there were people walking around with hunting rifles slung over their shoulders, I’d quietly turn round, go home and lock the doors, close the curtains and try not to make too much noise gibbering to myself.

I know from many a heated discussion I’ve had with American friends that they just don’t get it when I say that we don’t have guns over here, not in the insane way they do in the States, and I find the idea of everyone being armed to the teeth a terrifying thought.
They always sound puzzled and say things like “But the criminals still have guns, right?” as if that explained everything.

I’m not saying that all armed citizens are crazy gun nuts, far from it, but you only need one or two examples that are particularly Twitter-worthy to piss on the collective gunpowder, so to speak.
My own personal favourite nomination for inclusion into Adam Pain’s forthcoming Golden Face Palms would have to be the decidedly white Open Carry Texas group from Huston.
To “educate people of their rights”, they planned an openly armed march through a black neighborhood. Not only that, but with added sensitivity and tact, they scheduled the march for June 19th, the day given over to celebrate the abolition of slavery.
That specific rally did not go ahead as planned, but I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody doesn’t push their luck a little too far in trying to fully exercise their rights in the not too distant future.

Another hard-to-believe story that’s making the Fb newsfeed buzz this week is the one about the Christians, the craft shop and the government legislation.
No, it’s not the feed line to a joke, it’s the news that arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby have more or less unilaterally decided to flout the rules of the ObamaCare bill, by refusing to provide health insurance to female employees that covers IUDs or “morning after” contraceptive pills on the grounds that it contravenes their religious beliefs, despite the fact that an element of the insurance is paid for by the employees themselves.
This not only interferes with the woman’s right to choose, it also disqualifies a lot of women who need the same medication for non-contraceptive medical uses, and it isn’t cheap to buy privately either.

Strangely, they do provide men cover that allows for both a vasectomy operation and a Viagra prescription.

This may seem like a minor, under-the-fold news story, but the ramifications could be far reaching.
What if a Muslim employer insisted that all his staff had to wear a full-face veil?
Or that his employees all had to pray to Mecca five times a day?
How popular would that be in middle America I wonder?
And the case is already having an impact, with other companies questioning their responsibility to provide cover that may go against any deeply held beliefs they suddenly find they have they may hold.

It just seems weird to me that a shop that started off selling picture frames and modeling kits can now influence government policy.
It’s like the Women’s Institute lobbying the British government to ban fertility treatment, it just doesn’t seem right somehow.

But it was Independence Day this week, so I have tried my best not to start too many arguments with our trans-Atlantic cousins, even getting a few amused comments when I reposted this slightly cheeky old favourite that I made a few years ago to do my bit for The Special Relationship.

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And just so it doesn’t give the impression that all I see coming from America is frightening, or insane, or both, I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine from over in the U.S. who I have been trying to convince to start blogging.
Her name is Lisa and she regularly posts these beautiful, emotive and reflective pieces on her Facebook feed and they invariably receive many compliments on how well she writes and that she should speak to a wider audience.

My favourites are the poetic, narrative pieces that detail the simple pleasures of observing nature, or just sitting on the porch listening to the night, but I was also enormously touched by the post she wrote the other day about how grateful she was that her husband, Joe was well again:

“My mind makes music of the dehumidifier’s white noise; one time it was strings, but lively, jaunty ones. When Joe was at Cornerstone, the air rushing through the tubes connected to his trach played long, slow cello notes. They never stopped. It was the saddest music I’d ever heard.

I could also hear the bangs booms pops of the fireworks that Fourth of July as I stood by the head of his bed and talked to him. I hoped he couldn’t hear them–Joe had always loved fireworks, loved setting them off, he could build a better display on his own than we ever saw at Island Park what with their tiny budget. Stuck in the hospital bed, he couldn’t even raise himself to look out the window, even if there were any rockets to be seen.

They let me stay in the room, sleeping in a recliner, eating the trays he couldn’t. The food was surprisingly good. In return, I helped the nurses bathe him, clean him, turn him every two hours, change the sheets. I didn’t know it then, but I was learning skills for when the insurance cut off and they sent him home.

I hear the creak as he turns over in bed. It’s better music than the dehumidifier.”

Lisa on man’s inhumanity to man.

“If you’ve read true crime, you’ve probably run across the statement that the killer “had to dehumanize” his victim, that some serial killers view their prey as little more than dolls to be acted upon, and this is always written in tones dripping with horror, that this is such a rare aberration. Some strange mental component that “decent” people like you and I (thankfully!) don’t have.

But we do.

Any time we indulge in racism, sexism, classism, religionism–any of the “isms”, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Any time we make another person “other”, not “one of us” that’s what we’re doing, and it enables us to wreak any violence we please upon them, whether it’s simply slander, or actual physical violence and death–we’re doing exactly what the criminals do.”

on the cynicism of Christmas.

“The surly, churlish “It’s ‘Merry CHRISTmas’, god-dammit!” fad is sheer hilarity on several levels. First being that Jesus, Himself a devout Jew, would have celebrated Hanukkah–one of those holidays in “Happy Holidays” that certain of His followers find so objectionable.

It’s doubtful Jesus would have approved of Christmas, it being a wholly manufactured holiday the later Church used to make Christianity more palatable to its colonized peoples. Pagans had their well-loved “rebirth of the sun” festivals at the Solstice and would have been highly (perhaps violently) resentful and resistant if the Church had forbid them. So, the Church decided that rebirth of the sun could be compatible with the birth of The Son, and permitted the traditional merrymaking under that guise.

If certain of His followers read the New Testament, they’d discover that Jesus viewed non-Jews with marked distaste, habitually making disparaging remarks about Gentiles. Jesus had to be at least tangentially familiar with Roman pagan celebrations during the Solstice. There’s little reason to suppose He’d regard Christmas’s purporting to be a “godly” holiday with anything less than disgust.

Last but not least, the Seventh Commandment prohibits taking the Lord’s name in vain. There isn’t much that exemplifies that better than slapping your lord’s name and endorsement onto a heathen celebration.”

Lisa on the moon.

“And of course I had to go look at the moon.

I missed her full; our sky was solid impenetrable cloud, but tonight they’re breaking up. They march Eastward across her face. She has a little sliver sheared off, looking like she’s peeking at me from under something, or perhaps only her hair falling across her face a little, if her hair was deep blue as the lapis lazuli beads you chose.

And she shines on the snow in the yard, and it does its trick with the Disneyland sparkles to show you that it’s magical, if you didn’t already know. And she shines on the icicles over the door, making them gleam a blue as cold as LED light, but somehow living while LED can’t.

I turn off the kitchen light so I can look out again and she’s printed light on the floor in the pattern of the French door’s frames. The clouds have moved on and she’s bright, it’s bright outside, it might as well be a parking lot, so lit up with the moonlight reflecting from the snow, and from the starlight and the neighbors’ yard lights. It’s cold, it’s a quiet night, but it’s lit up and waiting.”

…and on wacky wildlife.

“Okay, this must be Wacky Wildlife Day.

I look out and see the raccoon waddling up the walk toward the cat food. This doesn’t please me.

I buy cat food for the cats. The bag has a picture of a cat on it; not a raccoon, not the neighbor’s dog, it’s for the cats. Still, as far as raccoons and the mayhem they can commit goes, this is a pretty well-behaved raccoon. If it shows up after hours and finishes off what the cats didn’t eat, that’s more-or-less okay with me. I’m not going to stand sentinel all night to make sure it can’t scrounge the leftovers.

But daylight? Come on.
I open the door and it bounds off, but then stands up in the middle of the yard, looking at me. We stand there for awhile. I don’t have anything handy to chuck at it, so finally I extend my arm and point at it. A lot of animals who have had a rifle pointed at them don’t like that–they’ll run.

I point at the raccoon and it slowly turns and looks behind it, then turns back, like “Who, me?” So I laugh and give up and go back in the house.

Well played, raccoon. Well played.”

**************************************************************************

[If you, like me, would like to see Lisa spread her wings and start a blog of her own so that more people can experience her wonderful writing, please leave a comment and I will gladly pass them on when I next prod her into doing just that.]

And that’s about it.
Just time to fit in my pick for sunset picture of the week.

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Until next time…

 

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The politics of duncing…

{For tenuously linked post soundtrack CLICK HERE}

“Bloody (insert generic racial stereotype here), coming over here, stealing our jobs, preying on the livelihood of the honest British workers…” goes the well worn diatribe, rolled out whenever a news story claims we’re about to be invaded by a hoard of recently emboldened foreign nationals, supposedly arriving on our shores to annex whole corners of the employment market.

Such is the voice of the people that some politicians claim to represent, whilst they simultaneously try to impose their views and prejudices on the masses, presumably following some sort of retrospective logic that allows them to believe they are supporting a perceived opinion they themselves generated.
And I suppose to a large extent, that’s their job.

As long as they conform to the same standards they would have us live by, that is.

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UKIP chief buffoon, Nigel Farage, has just launched a two-pronged hypocrisy campaign, centred on the issue of (mainly eastern European) immigrants that are apparently about to take England to the brink of economic collapse by flooding the country with cheap labour.

The hysteria-mongering that surrounded the arrival in the UK of Victor Spirescu and his non-existent companions (Victor was the only Romanian migrant to arrive at Luton airport on January 1st, to be met by a wall of press journalists and tv crews, there to witness the predicted invasion) was just the start of a concerted drive by Farage and his “I’m-not-a-racist-but…” cohorts to persuade us that our very way of life was under threat from an EU conspiracy.

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Hmm, is this a trick question?

Well it seems that UKIP’s sledgehammer tactics have had somewhat the reverse of the desired effect.
Having suffered unwanted press attention for several weeks subsequent to his arrival on new year’s day, resulting in him losing at least one job to date, and experiencing first-hand the English right wing “bullies”,  Victor has used his minor local celebrity status to help promote the pro EU Europeans Party.

As for Nasty Nigel himself, his insistence that the first choice of British jobs go to British workers backfired amusingly when he was asked by the BBC’s Nick Robinson why it was that Farage’s wife, (who is German) was employed as his assistant, at a salary of £25,000, paid by an EU allowance, instead of giving the job to a local worker.
Nige’s response that his efficient German wife was the only one who could do the job, what with the long unsociable hours and having to write up his notes and daily schedule late at night, didn’t do his cause many favours. He claimed that he didn’t know of anyone else who would have the stamina for the work involved.
Although the thought of taking dictation from Farage, as he flosses his teeth before bed in his Union Jack underpants, sighing sadly as he shaves off the shadow of a toothbrush moustache he’s left until last, it strikes me that it can’t be much of a loss to the British jobs market so we’ll allow him that small victory.

A slightly more high profile Doh! moment in UKIP’s recent catalogue of PR cock-ups directly involved their latest poster campaign, namely this one, featuring a beggar dressed in work clothes, accompanied by a pretty unambiguous anti-EU message:

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The only problem with this is that it was soon revealed that the part of the out of work British victim of European economic migration in the poster was in fact played by an Irish actor, and Ireland will still be able to trade freely with Europe, even if Nigel and his mates convince the rest of the UK to pull up the drawbridge.

In an extra twist, another news story from recent days, the Cornish being granted minority status, has spawned a parody of the UKIP poster.
Living as we do in neighboring Devon and visiting Cornwall as often as we do, I’ll refrain from any comment.

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Not all the stupidity, small-mindedness and ineptitude has been provided by UKIP this week though (well, not so far as we know so far) but Whitehall has had a little more egg on its collective face, due to the spiteful interjection of some wag on Wikipedia.

It has emerged that the page of the publicly-edited, inaccuracy-strewn online encyclopedia devoted to the Hillsborough football disaster has come under attack from a troll who has changed passages of the tribute page; “You’ll Never Walk Alone” for instance was changed to “You’ll Never Walk Again” and the “This Is Anfield” banner was altered to read “This Is A Shithole”, while the phrase “Blame Liverpool fans” was added to an entry on the tragedy that claimed 96 lives in 1989.
The editor responsible has not yet been tracked down, although that is apparently only a matter of time. What is known however, is that the IP address of the computer that made the edit originated in offices of Whitehall.
Not only that, it has since come to light that a large number of other malicious alterations to Wikipedia have been traced to government computers, several of them violently racist.

Many of the edits are of course simply mischievous, my own personal favourite being the one that changed the article for American, vomit-inducing-medical-saccharine-a-thon Grey’s Anatomy to describe the hit TV series as “overrated” and a “euphemism for an old mans netherregions”.

The voice of the people indeed…

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2014 in Blogging, Humour, News, Social comment, TV

 

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Rainbow warriors…

[Today’s post was written in collaboration with Mr Adam Pain from the excellent blog, A World Of Pain. Check it out for articulate and acerbic wit, searching insight and more.]

I doubt even the inhabitants of Camden Town in London could name too many historic events that have occurred in their Bohemian neighbourhood – but today that changed significantly, in a blaze of technicolored publicity. Mind you, this is Camden we’re talking about. The strength of some of the weed on the streets these days has probably rendered a good percentage of Camden’s most notorious residents barely able to remember all of their vowels.

At one minute past midnight this morning, Sean Adl-Tabatabai and Sinclair Gray Treadway made history by being (probably) the very first same-sex couple to get married in the UK. They tied the knot in Camden Town Hall, one of many couples around the country who rushed to be among the first to take advantage of new legislation, passed last year in the House of Commons by 400 votes to 175, allowing gay and lesbian couples full married rights under UK law for the first time.
(Watch Sean and Sinclair’s historic ceremony here.)

That we have taken such a ridiculous length of time to reach this stage in our social evolution is somewhat bewildering. I mean, given that the (even then, long overdue) Sexual Offences Act finally decriminalised homosexuality in 1967 – and therefore society in general was presumably at least vaguely aware that behaviour among some consenting adults which was previously considered “unnatural” or “unacceptable” was to be viewed with a new tolerance – why has it taken another 47 years to allow those same accepted members of society the same rights as the rest of “us”?

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Insert inappropriate “Getting it up” gag here.

Religion, of course, is largely the answer to that.
But theological arguments briefly aside, the fact that the simple act of legally recognising a loving relationship is seen as such a huge milestone in our social history only serves to highlight the continuing prejudice and persecution of the LGBT community in general.

For example, two other less edifying stories that have picked up attention from a media attuned to the controversial or salacious, both feature the sort of comic-horror hate figure who regularly make the news such a jaw-dropping spectacle.

There has been worldwide condemnation of Uganda’s record on gay rights abuses, (sentences range from seven years imprisonment to torture and death) but less well known is the part played by American evangelist and candidate for Governor of Massachusetts, Scott Lively, in influencing it. He’s a complete charmer, in case you hadn’t guessed.

Lively travelled to Uganda on a lecture tour, his extreme views on homosexuality coming to the attention of the government, keen for any new “evidence” to strengthen their case for more draconian laws to be introduced.

He claims to be on a crusade to “protect civilisation from homosexuality”, something he believes is bent on a mission to “defeat marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity”. That’s an astonishing opinion, given the Greek’s input in actual creating civilisation and their inconveniently liberal views on homosexuality.
Although, bear in mind that this is from the same man who claims to have invented a “Gay Scale” which lists various levels of gayness, all the way up to Monster and Super Macho, the two categories that he says are most commonly occupied by serial killers, paedophiles and, interestingly, Nazis. They just sound like Nintendo bonus characters to me.
His justification for this, believe it or not, is that;

“only homosexuals would have the personality traits required to run the gas chambers”

WHAT?! What did he say?!
Yep, he said that.
He also said that the Rwandan genocide, over the border from Uganda, was instigated by a Gay Conspiracy.
Not only that, when confronted with the question of Barak Obama’s condemnation of Uganda’s mistreatment of its LGBT citizens, he said;
“I think Mr Obama may well be a homosexual himself, he’s certainly a radical homosexualist”
by which made up term he apparently means that;
“He (Obama) is lending the weight of his office to a movement that’s goal is to overthrow the Judean/Christian sexual ethic and replace it with the gay ethic of sexual anarchy”

This of course fails to take into consideration that many of those dreadful gay people are produced by previously untainted, straight Christian couples, presumably as a punishment for some unspecified sin.

Lucky for us, we have Scott Lively to protect civilisation.

And this man is running for Governor?!

If he gets elected, set a stopwatch – because the precedent set by similar bigoted, evangelical bigmouths isn’t exactly encouraging. Who else reckons it will be no more than eighteen months, before this sociopathic hypocrite turns up with his ratty little tail between his legs, having been ‘scooped’ by the National Enquirer? Photographed in a seedy motel, wearing nothing but ass-less chaps and a Ronald Reagan mask, riding a bored looking rent boy like a rodeo veteran. 

Finally we have the demise of someone who will hopefully completely fail to leave even an unpleasant greasy stain on the pages of history to record his existence, the founder of odious hate-mongers and pseudo-religious nutjobs, The Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps.

The “church”, whose mission it is to picket US soldiers’ funerals waving placards displaying such slogans as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates Fags” have asked for respect to be paid to their founding father, his daughter Shirley saying;
“It would be in extremely poor taste if someone were to protest my father’s funeral just because they disagreed with him. Everyone is entitled to respect in death. What monster would go out of their way to upset my family when we’re grieving?”

I’m sorry, what?

That would have been like Ed Gein’s family attempting to ban leather jackets outside his funeral, out of a feigned respect for the American tannery industry.

Oh hang on, I’m forgetting what a decent fellow ol’ Fred was when he was at home with his family, maybe we should leave the last moving words to his grieving daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper;
“My father was a great man who did no harm to anyone. So what if he beat his own wife and children? Doesn’t any good, loving father do that?”

Well, quite.

Especially if your paternal role models are all to be found languishing in the desert five thousand years ago, delirious from communicable disease, starvation, heat exhaustion and all that smiting in God’s all loving name.

Only one song seems suitably apt to play out this post I think.
Take it away Tom…

PLAY VIDEO

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2014 in Humour, Music, News, Social comment

 

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The stupidity of bureaucracy – The life and tragic death of Alois Dvorzac…

Every now and then a news story comes along that makes me angry.
They aren’t all massive, sensational stories about genocides, child murders, ignorant racist thugs or institutional human rights abuses either.
Some of them are about the small horrors, the ones which fall through the gaps in our busy attention spans, the stories that barely register on the radar of a society more interested in the dalliances of pop stars and the contents of Fat Cats’ bonus packages.

In other words, the very personal tales of everyday neglect and insensitivity that quietly chip away at my faith in human nature.

Born in Maribor, Slovenia in 1928, Alois Dvorzac was not a prize winning scientist or famous war hero, he wouldn’t go on to invent a cure for cancer or discover a new galaxy, he was just an ordinary man with a commitment to his country who wished to live an ordinary life.

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Alois’ father died when he was two years old, but despite this he had a reasonably happy childhood, even allowing for the German occupation, growing up in a large house with his mother and three sisters. He did well at school, receiving glowing plaudits from his teachers in every subject (his report cards all stamped “sehr gut” by the Nazi authorities) and going on to teach himself English in his own time whilst at university in the capital, Ljubljana. His mother and sisters were very proud as he was the first in his family to attend higher education.

So far, so normal. But as the war was ending he joined the Slovenian partisans, marking him out to the occupying forces as someone for them to keep an eye on.
When the Germans withdrew after the war, Dvorzac became increasingly disillusioned with the ruling communist system and made the difficult decision to relocate to the West, planning on escaping the oppressive dictatorship that had replaced the old regime by travelling across Europe and attempting to make a life for himself in the far off promised land of Canada.
One of his few surviving relatives, his cousin Zlatka Hoceevar who still lives in Alois’ childhood home, said recently that;

“…the political system crushed talented people. Those that stayed here, had their wings clipped.”

By this time Alois had met and married Dana, the woman who would become his one constant companion and love of his life, the one who would accompany him on his long journey to freedom and happiness on a strange new continent, so far from everything they had previously known.
They traveled overland, spent a short time in Austria (the one and only time in his life that Alois Dvorzac could be even remotely considered an “illegal alien”) eventually arriving in Canada, where he and his bride soon became naturalized citizens and settled down to make a new life for themselves.

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Alois used his love of science and mathematics to help him make a successful career as an engineer, carving out a comfortable existence for himself and his beloved Dana in the self-imposed exile they had chosen, sadly losing contact with family and friends in his homeland, something which he would later come to regret, but tragically never manage to reconcile.

They never had children of their own, but you only have to see the look of devotion on their faces in this photo, taken shortly before Dana died a few years ago, to see how happy they had become in their life together.

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Now alone in his adopted country and beginning to suffer the onset of Alzheimer’s, Alois finally decided last year that he would make the long trip back to Slovenia, to reconnect with his family there and possibly settle in his native country for the remainder of his life.
So he got on a plane in Canada, bound for the home he left so long ago, no doubt dreaming of an emotional reunion with those he’d left behind.

On landing at Gatwick airport for a connecting flight however, he found himself detained by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) on some sort of technicality.
We still don’t know what prompted the bureaucracy-bound officials to single him out. Was it the fact that he hadn’t got the right documentation? Was it simply that, suffering from an episode of confusion brought on by his illness, he wasn’t able to explain his situation to airport authorities’ satisfaction?
What we do know is that this quietly dignified man, having survived the wartime Nazi occupation, the communist rule of his beloved Slovenia and a life-changing journey of thousands of miles across the globe, ended up incarcerated at the UKBA Immigration Removal Centre at Harmondsworth in London on January 23rd 2013.

Examined by an independent doctor whilst at the facility, 84 year-old Dvorzac was declared “Vulnerable, frail and unfit for detention” and despite that doctor’s evaluation, the UKBA refused to release him, giving no adequate explanation as to why he was being held.
Indeed, when the doctor requested her supervisor to intervene on his behalf, they were told by the Border Agency that they “would not make that information available as it is none of your business”

Alois Dvorzac was kept in a lonely government holding cell, for much of the time handcuffed and chained to his bed until, alone and frightened two weeks later, struggling to breathe and without even the comfort of his loved ones around him, his heart finally gave out and he died, never to complete his final journey home.

The Canadian High Commission, contacted by the doctor who examined him, had only this to say on hearing of his tragic demise;

“We take the well-being of our citizens very seriously and look forward to the outcome of the investigation of the prisons and probation ombudsman into the circumstances surrounding Mr Dvorzac’s death. To protect the privacy of the individual concerned, further comments on this case cannot be provided.”

The UK Border Agency have released a weasel-worded statement that reads;

“The recent report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons on Harmondsworth made it clear that performance by the contractor running the centre has been below the high standard expected.

“It made a number of recommendations that we are taking forward and we are scrutinising our contractor’s performance closely. Clear instructions have been issued to staff making clear that restraint should only happen where absolutely necessary.”

When I saw this story on the news this week, I could only think of what I would feel if this had been one of my relatives, how enraged I would be at the brutal treatment of a man whose only crime was to  dream of a better life, somewhere a world away from all that he had known.

If this is how we treat those in society who merely strive to enrich their lives, no matter what the odds stacked against them, whether they live in foreign lands under the yoke of oppression or are simply passing through our own supposedly free country, then I think it’s about time we looked long and hard at the way our society determines who benefits from that freedom.
Because until we do, tragic cases like that of Alois Dvorzac will continue to appear in quickly-forgotten corners of the news media, a sign that we are unwilling to learn the lessons from history that we should have learnt many years ago.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2014 in News, Social comment

 

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A warning from the present…

After my assertion that I would try to provide you with an antidote to all the dreadfullness on the internet in my last post, I have tried my best to avoid the sleazy, the odious and the downright awful that the web seems intent on forcing us to experience whenever we are drawn to that glowing hypnotic square.
But human nature being what it is, we can’t help being drawn to the sort of story that causes that little vein in our collective temple to start throbbing and the communal jaw muscles to clench involuntarily, because awful though some of it is, looking away sometimes just isn’t the right thing to do.
I have always believed that anyone ignorant of the Nazi holocaust should seek out those appalling stories and even more atrocious, harrowing pictures, however upsetting they may be, because they truly are a “warning from history”. In the same way that I don’t think anyone living through our current period of religious and cultural upheaval should shy away from confronting the horrors of what we as a race are capable of perpetrating on each other.

The dreadful things people are capable of never ceases to astound me and for that reason I feel the need to relate some reports that have come to my attention this week.
You may not think that you need more horror in your lives, what with the economic and weather related news stories that fill the TV schedules of late, but if we don’t stand witness to the folly of our times how will we ever learn to restrain ourselves from making the same mistakes again and again.

At the start of the week we were told of a British jihadist who allegedly committed a suicide attack in Syria by driving a truckload of explosives into a prison compound, a story shocking enough in itself, yet we seem so inured to the terror of war that it passes almost unnoticed across our screens, just another episode in the continuing horror story of our rolling news-fixated existence.
But surely nobody can ignore the utter awfulness of the story so eloquently related by Adam Pain on his blog today.
It may not be current (the report is from 2002) but the genuine shock I felt when I read the story this afternoon quite literally left me speechless.
15 innocent schoolgirls, forced back into a burning building by the so-called “religious police” in Saudi Arabia for failing to adhere to an archaic dress code, murdered by the state for failing to cover their hair and faces in their desperation to escape the fire.
I cannot begin to imagine the terror and betrayal they must have felt as they faced the stony faces of their executioners, the justification for their senseless deaths nothing more than something called “religion”.

Religion may bring peace and succor to those who practice it, but there is no excuse for using it as a stick to beat an entire generation or society into submission.

In yet another example of the savagery that lives beneath the surface of faith, another man in the war torn country of Syria made a choice that few of us will ever have to make.
When faced with the terrible choice of whether to surrender his family to the brutal rape and murder threatened by marauding terrorists in his home town of Adra, Nizar chose instead to detonate grenades, killing not only the invaders but also his family.
The thought of being forced to make this kind of horrendous choice fills me with a kind of rage at the human race in general that we should never have to feel.

When I first thought of writing this post, I had planned on using a report of a bungled lesson in suicide bombing carried out at a fundamentalist training camp near Baghdad, in which a teacher somehow managed to accidentally blow up himself and his whole class.
Initially I thought I could use it as a flippant aside to why aliens, after scanning our transmissions, decided we were too stupid to bother visiting because we couldn’t even manage to kill each other properly, let alone be much of a threat to visiting ambassadors from another world.
However, having rediscovered our propensity for horror and violence in the service of hate and intolerance, it seems insensitive.
After all, no matter how misguided the students at the world’s worst school for scoundrels were, they were all someone’s sons, someone’s daughters, someone’s parents, and we should try and remember that it’s the world that made them this way.
It’s everyone’s duty to make sure the next generation don’t have a reason to continue the cycle of violence.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2014 in Blogging, News, Social comment

 

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