Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Woman with child

Woman: “Can I have birth control?”

Republican Controlled Congress: “No.”

Woman: “I couldn’t get birth control, so I got pregnant. Can I have an abortion?”

Republican Controlled Congress: “No.”

Woman: “You prevented me from having an abortion so I’m carrying the fetus, but my employer won’t provide reasonable accommodations and is threatening to fire me. Would you please pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?”

Republican Controlled Congress: “No”

Woman: “I had the baby, but now I’m out of work. Can I have WIC and food stamps until I get back on my feet?”

Republican Controlled Congress: “No.”

Woman: “I found a job, but it doesn’t offer me insurance. Can I have government guaranteed insurance?”

Republican Controlled Congress: “No.”

Woman: “My kid got sick and I got fired because I missed time caring for him/her. Can I get unemployment benefit?”

Republican Controlled Congress: “No.”

Woman: “My new job never lets me know what shift I have to work in advance, and if I don’t go I get fired, so I’m having a hard time picking up my kid from school on time consistently. Can we fund after-school programs?”

Republican Controlled Congress: “No.”

Woman: “Well, I’m prepared to work to support my family. Can you make sure that a full-time job’s minimum wage is enough to do that?”

Republican Controlled Congress: “No. But what’s the matter with you and your family, that working two jobs can’t lift you out of poverty? And what kind of a mother are you, letting someone else watch your child while you work? If your child doesn’t do well in school or gets in trouble, it’s entirely your fault. You shouldn’t have had a child if you weren’t prepared to take care of him/her. Actually you shouldn’t have had sex in the first place. You’re just a dirty little slut sucking off the teat of the State and honest taxpayers.

Have you considered prostitution?”

A very simple problem (which most University level students get wrong).

A bat and a ball cost $1.10 between them.

The bat costs $1 more than the ball.

How much does the ball cost?

It’s not as simple as it first appears.

Most people answer 10¢. We’re betting you did, too.

But the correct answer is 5¢.

Why? Well, if the ball cost 10¢ and the bat cost $1 more, then the bat would cost $1.10, making a total cost $1.10 + $0.10 = $1.20. Wouldn’t it?

This puzzle appears in a book by the behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman called “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.

According to Kahneman, more that 50% of students at the top US universities (Harvard, MIT and Princeton) get this problem wrong. At less prestigious universities the number of students who gave the wrong answer was more than 80%.

Kahneman writes:

“A number came to your mind. The number, of course, is 10: 10¢.

The distinctive mark of this easy puzzle is that it evokes an answer that is intuitive, appealing … and wrong.

Do the math, and you will see.

If the ball cost 10¢, then the total cost will be $1.20 (10¢ for the ball and $1.10 for the bat), not $1.10. The correct answer is therefore 5¢. It is safe to assume that the intuitive answer also came to the mind of those who ended up with the correct number — but they somehow managed to resist the intuition.”

The bat-and-ball problem is an observation that is a vital fact: many people are overconfident, and prone to place too much faith in their intuitions. They apparently find cognitive effort at least mildly unpleasant and avoid it as much as possible.

This also explains the enduring appeal of fake news, populist politics, and conspiracy theories.

Too many people believe what they want to believe, or what “feels” right, and ignore critical thinking or facts. So when someone asks you “How can people believe [insert politician’s name, political theory, conspiracy story, or whatever you like in here]?” then it’s probably because they’re relying on intuitive thinking and not logical thinking.

In the most simple terms, most people simply can’t be bothered to think.

Perhaps they don’t know how to, but it’s much more likely they can’t be bothered to employ the effort required.

And the implications for our society are serious, and frightening.

 

My mother’s character was forged early, when she left school at 14 and somehow forgot to tell her parents.

Rather than attend Mrs Llewellyn’s Academy for Young Ladies she spent her days tramping the black hills above Swansea for a view over the shining bay, when the rain relented long enough to do so, or down at the docks watching fishing boats unloading their catch. Sometimes she would patrol the centre of the town, admiring the new “flapper” dresses in the shop windows.

She figured she wasn’t learning anything that would be any help in life’s coming endeavours. She had no interest in discovering how to comport herself to good effect at a middle-class cocktail party full of silly boys who laughed too loud and coughed over their Craven As, and even less enthusiasm for delving into the mysteries of creating a Crème brûlée for some future husband.

She did not make a fuss, just quietly absented herself. And as her father kept paying the fees, so no one from the Academy bothered Mr Reynolds as to why Betty’s chair was empty. Such an indiscrete enquiry would have been considered infra dig. Her wayward wanderings were only discovered when her mother was walking home clutching another bottle of nerve tonic after one of her regular visits to a local physician who never hesitated to relieve her of a shilling for needless consultations, and she happened to discover Betty skipping stones on Cwmdonkin Reservoir.

The confrontation with her father over her behaviour lasted a little over ten minutes. “I am not going back, and you can’t make me.” She pursed her lips with obdurate certainty. Her father looked at her resignedly. He had never thought it worthwhile educating the girl anyway, and had only reluctantly agreed to satisfy his wife, who had some notion that it was the modern thing to do. “You can’t just moon around doing nothing,” he argued. “I won’t,” she said. “I’ll come work in the shop.”

The fishmonger looked at her balefully – he enjoyed escaping to the little shop in Sketty every day, without the responsibilities of dealing with the females in his family for a few hours. And he knew his wife would play merry hell over the thought of the girl standing behind the counter. On the other hand, he knew the girl could be trusted, and was quick-witted. “I can’t pay you much,” he said, doubtfully. “Whatever you can manage,” she replied, smiling. And so it was done.

She took to the work immediately. Her peaceable manner quieted her worrying father and went down well with customers. She seemed to have a natural instinct for those who could be trusted to take some food “on tic” till next payday, and very rarely got that judgement wrong. The gratitude of those customers struggling to survive what they were now calling The Great Depression was palpable. Her father even took to enjoying a quiet pint of a lunchtime at The Vivian on Gower Road, where he would catch up with old comrades from the trenches who, like him, had somehow survived the carnage at Ypres. The lick of gas had left him perennially short-breathed, but some had got it worse. Billy had been blinded, after all. They would talk, and sometimes a runner would take half-a-crown to the local bookie, but only when he knew the business could stand it.

Back at the shop, Betty bobbed and weaved, enjoying the responsibility, and became adept at totting up lists of figures on a scrap of paper, and blindingly quickly. It was a skill that never left her, at least until her mind failed into her dotage, and a useful talent which she eventually passed to me. To this day I surprise work colleagues and my own family with my capacity to glance at a column of figures and deliver an approximation of the total in moments, accurate to within a few pennies at least. Give me a pencil and paper and I’ll give you the exactly right answer in seconds. “Thank the fish,” I sometimes grin, obscurantly.

She married, and moved. But my father died of a massive coronary when I was just two, worn out by six years on destroyers in the second war, ultimately the victim of too many fags and one too many scotches. There wasn’t any money, and she adapted to life as an impoverished single mother with the same resolute and unfussed purpose that she applied to all the other areas of her life. Stoicism was her watchword. She just got on, and did.

Despite the pressure cooker existence of being a single mother with a precocious only child, she and I rarely argued, mostly because early on I worked out it was a pointless exercise.

Once her mind was made up, it was unmade so rarely as to be a news event, and in turn her mulish stubbornness had been passed down to me.

We took it in turns to ignore the adopted position of the other, always moving the conversation onto safer ground when argument loomed. It was, thus, an unproductive relationship by modern standards, but a peaceful one. Where today parents and children would be urged to “have it out” and “find common ground”, we simply left patches of emotional turf unexplored.

She rarely cracked the whip, except when I reached the fringes of adulthood, and then only ever over the time I was due home, as she used to say she had enough to worry about without lying in bed concerned I had crashed the Triumph Herald on the way back from the pub.

Eleven meant eleven. The cold stare I received if I rolled the little white car down the drive at ten past the hour was too high a price for an extra ten minutes of freedom.

And if I was ever going out for a drink she would warn me, as if by rote, against drinking scotch. “It doesn’t agree with the men in our family,” she would intone solemnly. “You do as you like, boy, but I tell you I always knew when your father came back from the pub if he’d been drinking whisky, just by the look on his face. It doesn’t agree with our men.”

She was right. It didn’t. And much as I love a peaty, oaky single malt, to this day I always ration myself to one or two at most. I can guzzle a crisp bottle of Chardonnay, smash down a vodka or three, and above all drown myself in good, chewy bitter ale with the best of them. But if I drink too much scotch, my head is thicker than usual, and my mood next day is always one of black despair. She knew things.

She ignored my choice of women, figuring it was none of her business, and only tut-tutted mildly at my occasional business misadventures. “Better to give it a go,” was her placid judgement.

There was really only one disagreement that echoed down the years between Betty and me.

It grew from what she regarded as her encyclopaedic knowledge of fish, and a defiant desire on my part to win one argument – just one – on her home territory.

It began one Christmas, when we received our customary creaking crate of fresh fish delivered to our local railway station from Uncle Ken, her brother, who still worked his stand on the docks in Swansea, buying the catch wholesale and shipping it to hotels all over the country in rough hewn planks packed with newspaper and ice.

This was long before the days of refrigerated transport, of course. By the time the crate arrived it would always be showing signs of melting, and smelling strongly. But if the railways managed to get it to us overnight, the fish inside was still fresh enough to add a touch of luxury to our otherwise somewhat bare Christmas feasts. Usually a cod, from Iceland, maybe a ling or two from down Cornwall way, perhaps some langoustines from Scotland or Brittany, and always a sea trout – or sewin as the Welsh call it – Salmo trutta cambricus – because that was her special favourite. Brown trout that had escaped the river for the open sea, and were richer and deeper in colour and flavour as a result.

She would nestle the gleaming silvery fish lovingly in her hands, often three or four pounds in weight, and show me that the mouth of the sea trout is slightly longer than the salmon, reaching behind the line of the eye. At that time of year they often turned up in nets off the North Wales coast, or were caught on lines as they returned to their home river to spawn. She would explain how despite its pink flesh, the real difference between salmon and sea trout is in the taste. “It feeds like a salmon on whatever the ocean has to offer – often small crabs and things – it looks likes salmon, but it will always taste like a trout.”

She would smile in delight. “It always tastes of the river, wherever it’s been.”

The white fish she would bake in a pie with leeks and a potato and cheese crust. Langoustines would be saved for a Boxing Day party with the Sedwells from next door, made merry by a naughty second glass of sherry before lunch, and then helped along with the luxury of a bottle of Mateus Rosé as we cracked the shells, praying our thanks for Ken’s generosity, and afterwards there was always an obligatory game of Pontoon, but for matches only, as Betty didn’t hold with gambling.

But the sewin was always carefully sliced into neat parcels wrapped in greaseproof paper, carefully husbanded to provide her with a few meals, and piece by piece in the coming few days a fillet would be braised on the stovetop for her private lunch, always served with impossibly thinly sliced but thickly buttered Hovis bread. She would eat it alone, at the little lino-topped kitchen table, chewing slowly, with a dreamy, faraway look in her eyes.

Our disagreement came when one year Ken dispatched some skate in the crate.

“Ugh”, she muttered. “Skate. Why on earth would he send us skate?”

I looked at the curious ՙwings’ of fish lying sodden against a background of racing results and a weather report for the Swansea Valley. They were about the size of my spread hand, thicker at the top than the bottom, with curious ridges running the length of the fillets.

“What is it?” I asked, intrigued.

Her lip curled ever so slightly contemptuously. Skate, she opined, was not something that should ever be seen at a polite table. “They’re ’orrible ugly buggers, for one” she said, explaining how the stingray-like fish sometimes came up in the deep nets on the edge of the continental shelf. “Good for cat food, is all.  You have to throw most of the fish away, and they stink of ammonium sometimes, too. All you get are these little bits.” She gestured at the wings with distaste. “Why on earth would he send us this? ’Spect he couldn’t sell it anywhere else.”

Something about her untypical annoyance encouraged a little devilment in me. “We should cook it though, yeah?” I pointed to the clock. “It’s near lunchtime, anyway. How bad can it be, eh? It’s a meal.”

She looked irritated. “The Sedwell’s cat can have it. I wouldn’t thank you for it.”

I persisted. “That’s a waste, Mam. ‘Waste not, want not’ you’re always saying. We should give it a go. How do you cook it, then?”

She picked up the little parcel and thrust it at me. “Stick it in a pan and fry it up with a bit of fat if you must. But I don’t want any.” She scowled.

I chuckled and grabbed an old pan and melted a knob of butter in it. She watched my out of the corner of her eye, and I whistled a few notes, pretending I didn’t know she was watching. I used the Welsh Shir Gȃr from Camarthenshire, as she had treated herself to a pat because it was Christmas, although I found it far too salty.

“You make sure you get it cooked,” she grumbled, “got to be cooked right through.” Despite herself, she glanced at the pan. “See that pink bit? You don’t want that. Hasn’t been bled proper.” And she got the butter knife and carved a small portion off one of the fillets and threw it away, murmuring “Skate” to herself disapprovingly as she did.

The wings browned nicely, and when the fillets were flipped so the ridges were pan side down, that side crisped agreeably, too, although I hadn’t floured them. I flipped a little butter over them, and turned them out onto a plate.

“Mum, “ I urged with my first mouthful, “this is delicious. Really. Try a piece.”

When pressed, she accepted the tiniest morsel of milky-white flesh from me on a fork, and daintily popped it in her mouth. Then turned away, and mumbled “Skate” again, making a disapproving clucking noise. Nothing I could say would induce her to try any more, although I was ploughing through the delicately flavoured flesh at a rate of knots. “You enjoy it, boy”, she said, “if you like it. But it’s not for me. No, thank you very much.”

And no matter how I pushed her for why she didn’t like it, nothing else was forthcoming. Which was her all over, truth be told.

As the years past, and the humble skate metamorphosed into the poisson du jour for so many food experts and critics, her implacable opinion never wavered. I sat her down once in front of a television and made her watch some famous chef produce a clutch of wings in brown butter, with some deep-green baby beans. A picture on a plate. “Not for me,” she insisted, with a steely tone.  And changed the subject.

Towards the end, her mind went walkabout. She would confuse me with my father, grumbling that I hadn’t fixed the side gate yet. She would worry who was minding the shop she had stopped working in 70 years earlier.

One day, the nurse said she was being “difficult”, and would I mind popping in to calm her? And as I made my way into her room, she was banging a fork on her tray, clearly agitated.

“Skate!” she cried at me when she saw me come in. “Skate! Not for me boy, you can take this away. Give it to the cat.” And she pushed the table towards the end of her bed on its roller feet, glaring at me.

She died the next day. 93.

Just sat up in bed, apparently, insisting it was time for a nice cup of tea, then fell backward again, and that was it.

She was a determined woman, my mother, who ate a lot of fish.

But not skate.

No, thank you very much.

 

Copyright Stephen Yolland, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

Assuming we aren’t all spending our time watching America implode under the rule of an infantile idiot, we probably need some good TV to watch. This is our list of binge-worthy TV shows which you may have heard of but not caught up with yet, or may not have heard of. Trust us, our standards are high, and these are worth your time.

Comedy/Fantasy

We are a big rap for a series of whimsical little fantasy show called The Good Place.

Kristen Bell and Ted Danson in the afterlife …

The series aired from September 19, 2016 to January 30, 2020 on NBC.

It focuses on Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), who arrives in the afterlife and is welcomed by Michael (Ted Danson) to “the Good Place” – with Danson delivering possibly in the best work of his career, yes, even including his ineffable genius turn in Cheers – a highly selective Heaven-like utopia he designed, as a reward for her righteous life. However, Eleanor realises that she was sent there by mistake and so must hide her morally imperfect behavior while trying to become a better and more ethical person.

William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, and Manny Jacinto co-star as other residents of “the Good Place”, together with D’Arcy Carden as Janet, an all-powerful artificial being who assists Good Place residents.

To tell you any more would spoil the show, but it rewards sticking with it as the plotline develops, and it is highly intelligent writing, receiving critical acclaim for its writing, acting, originality, setting, and tone. In addition, the most unusual exploration and creative use of ethics and philosophy have also been positively received. The recognition earned the series a Peabody Award in 2019.

Beautiful people, interesting history, plenty of suspense and humour, and a time machine. What’s not to like?

We recently caught up with – and thoroughly enjoyed – a short-lived but highly original show called Timeless, an American science fiction television series that premiered on NBC on October 3, 2016. It stars Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, and Malcolm Barrett as a team that attempts to stop a mysterious organisation from changing the course of history through malicious time travel. It’s currently available on Amazon Prime.

The series was also stars Sakina Jaffrey, Paterson Joseph, Claudia Doumit, and Goran Višnjić. The executive producers include John Davis and John Fox of another show we love (see tomorrow’s post) The Blacklist.

Although NBC cancelled the series after one season, the series was renewed three days later. The ten-episode second season premiered on March 11, 2018, and ran until NBC cancelled the series again in June 2018. One month later, NBC ordered a two-part finale to conclude the series, which aired on December 20, 2018.

It fast developed a small but highly loyal following, who are still agitating for a Series 3. The acting is of an unusually high standard for what could hardly be called deeply serious TV – especially from Abigail Spencer who shows great emotional range and flexibility – and the plotline is held consistently throughout. Some of the ventures into the past are genuinely educational. Timeless received generally positive reviews from television critics and won a Rockies Award.

While we’re on “Comedy/Fantasy”, if you haven’t caught up with Upload yet, then you simply must.

Andy Allo with another relative newcomer Robbie Amell, who also seems destined for stardom.

It stars a young lady who is surely destined to be the breakout TV star of 2020 – Andy Allo -a musician-cum-actor who simply lights up the screen whenever she’s on it.

Allo is a Cameroonian-American singer-songwriter, guitarist and actress. She released her first of three albums in 2009, and joined Prince‘s band, The New Power Generation, in 2011. She had a recurring role in three episodes of the comedy-drama series The Game in 2011, followed by a number of other roles, including a supporting role in the 2017 film Pitch Perfect 3 and now the lead role of Nora in Amazon Prime‘s series Upload.

Supported by an equally impressive cast of mainly unknowns, it’s a witty, sexy, fascinating and thought-provoking exploration of what the world might be like – not such a wild fantasy, given advances in computing – if we could upload our consciousness into a virtual reality of our choosing and thus avoid death – sort of.

It’s full of interesting philosophical exploration (although delivered with such a light touch that you might not even notice yourself receiving it), it’s great to look at and often laugh out loud funny. The characters are easy to invest in, leaving the viewer hungry for more. Along the way, it lands some serious blows about the current state of our community and its life priorities.

Not coincidentally at all, it is made by some of the team responsible for The Good Place. It has been renewed for a second season.

Tomorrow, we review thrillers and stuff like that.

 

 

Jesus

I do not write a lot on this blog about my religious beliefs.

For one thing, I find it faintly irritating when others do, because after most of a lifetime I think I know what I think, and I respect other people to know what they think, and I don’t think we should spend acres of time telling each other we’re wrong.

Then again, I am under the same command to share my faith like any Christian, and as I wait for the clock to tick over into Good Friday, especially when the world is in such pain as it is now, then tonight more so than ever I should not stay silent.

Many non-religious people – OK, I mean non-Christian people, specifically, as my knowledge of other religions is merely partial – say “Well, I can’t believe in God, because he lets such bad things happen. If he was a loving God, then how would he let …. [insert sad event here]?”

“Your imaginary friend must be a right shit,” as one friend put it to me.

This is an attitude with which I have great intellectual sympathy. It seems completely arse-backwards that God loves us, and yet awful things happen to us that he could wave his little finger at and prevent. Probably more Christians have left the faith over the centuries over the problem of Suffering – it deserves its own capital letter – than any other subject.

To understand this as Christians understand it – or for Christians who understand it poorly – we need to look at the very concept of life as it is understood by believers.

Every day at the moment we are being assailed by the tragic figures of those who sicken and die from Coronavirus. And the awful tales of them being wrenched from their family, unable to say goodbye, and the heartbreaking stories of how good they were as individuals. The story of the smiling, pretty 22 year old nurse who died in Essex affected me dreadfully.

To put this in any sort of context – to defend God, if you like, from his apparently uncaring gaze playing over such life events – we have to look at the fact – head on – that what we are experiencing here on Earth is not life. Not in and of itself, anyway. It is just half of life – less than half, actually – because Christians believe – and have believed for two thousand years – that when we die we go to our spiritual home. To God. To return to the source, The centre. To where we came from, and must return to.

Life as we know it is just a prelude, if you like, for real life.

One cannot be a Christian, no matter how much one is assailed by doubts (and I am as much as any other) if you do not believe this. It is the very essence of the faith – it is the POINT of the whole religion, if you like.

Now at this point, many atheists will turn away and declare, “Well, you can’t prove that, so the whole discussion is pointless.” And they’re right: no Christian CAN prove it – not ultimately. Not “court of law” style prove it. It’s a matter of belief. Usually arrived at through painful application and study, often over years or decades.

But to understand the world – to understand Suffering, from a Christian perspective – to understand why Christians believe as they do, you have to suspend that disbelief for a moment and face the plain truth that Christians believe that what happens here on Earth is only part of the story, and not, in reality, the most important part.  As someone once put it to me, “We are immortal beings, living a mortal life.”

In the context of this belief, the detail of the Good Friday story becomes utterly crucial.

Indeed, it is more important than anything else in the Bible.

For it is in Good Friday, and its twin, Easter Sunday, that we see both the innate tragedy of the world, and the promise of transcending that tragedy, laid out for all to see and understand, “if they have ears to hear”.

Jesus was an historic character. We know this. But whether the Bible is an accurate rendition of his life is endlessly up for debate. If the New Testament is a true re-telling of the events surrounding this remarkable man, then it reveals a great deal about why the world is as it is. And it specifically talks to us about Suffering.

Indeed, in my view you could remove all the New Testament, and leave just the story of Christ’s Passion and his Resurrection, and you would actually have 95% of what you need to know.

For Christians, Jesus Christ was not just the Son of God, he was also deeply, and one hundred per cent, human. Indeed, he was the only human who ever lived who epitomised how perfect a human life could be.

He felt raw human emotion and loss. “Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the Bible, and one of the most significant.

He was endlessly patient, endlessly gentle, endlessly kind, endlessly inspiring.

For Christians, he was the only human being untainted by wickedness.

He was also, though, a true human. He laughed. He enjoyed weddings. He had a temper when he saw people being led astray. Yet he hated no one. He hurt no one. Quite the opposite, in fact – he loved those who hurt him.

For a Christian, Jesus was sent by God to show us how we could be, if we just had the determination and the strength of will. And the faith.

Against that background, now contemplate what was done to him.

He was terrified. We know this. He knew what was coming. He knew the ordeal he would have to face. He begged God to find some other way for him to fulfil his purpose.

God said no. So did Jesus run? No. He could have, but he persisted. He was faithful.

So having committed no errors, hurt no-one, said and done nothing wicked, having simply worked to make life better for other people – and having left us the most powerful speeches about what it means to be human in the whole of human history – he was betrayed by one of his closest friends.

He was arrested by those who were terrified that he would tear them down from their position of power that they held onto merely to support their own egregious lifestyle. Having done nothing illegal, he was falsely accused of saying things he never had said, and turned over to the authorities for punishment. When they could find no fault in him, political pressure was brought to bear to ensure a conviction.

He was beaten to within an inch of his life – the skin literally flayed from his back – but even that didn’t satisfy those who feared his simple message.

He was mocked by those who had praised him just a few days earlier. The mob howled for his death.

nailsThen he was forced to carry a heavy wooden cross to a barren, high place, where he was nailed to it by his hands and feet while alive, and hung there to die the most appalling, slow, painful death imaginable.

What for? For saying “Love one another.”

When he didn’t die fast enough for those who we tired of the spectacle wanted to go home, he was speared in his side.

During this unimaginable ordeal, something very significant happened.

Despite forgiving those who are so mistreating him, and comforting one of those crucified with him, despite comforting his mother who was forced to watch this event, at a crucial moment his humanity came screaming from his very essence, from the core of his being, as he cried out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”.

Theologians have agonised about this phrase for centuries. It is the only saying that appears in more than one Gospel and is a quote from Psalm 22. This saying is taken by some as revealing an abandonment of the Son by the Father. Another interpretation holds that at the moment when Jesus took upon himself the sins of humanity, and the Father had to turn away from the Son because the Father is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13). Yet other theologians understand the cry as that of one who was truly human and who felt forsaken. Put to death by his foes, very largely deserted by his friends, he may have felt he was also deserted by God.

This latter is the interpretation I treasure. Because for me, the very essence of Christ’s sacrifice, and the true significance of Good Friday, is that it is in this very second that Christ is unshakeable and totally human. Sustained to at least some extent by his unique relationship with God until this moment, at this moment of extreme crisis, God leaves him to face the reality of pain and torture and suffering and death on his own. Without a direct line to God. Without any simple explanation. Without any promises. With no wave of the magic wand. At this moment – precisely this moment – Jesus, a perfect divine being, shares OUR fate, absolutely.

He feels what we feel, every day. And in this anguished cry, I think we can see that this final indignity, even for Jesus, was unexpected and frightening.

Jesus is human, and never more human than in this final crisis.

And still, and yet, does he give up? No: he persists with his life, his mission, to the very end.

As I write this, I reflect on the horrifying truth that the man being crucified by the Romans virtually suffocates to death, unable to sustain his body weight on his broken arms and legs, he slumps down, head and torso leaning forward. Jesus’s seven sayings on the cross would have been as he was gasping for air to sustain himself. Choking. A heaving chest with failing lungs. The tragic irony is obvious.

So for Christians, as we watch the terrible suffering around us this Good Friday, we need to believe – if we do – that Jesus has been there before us. He died a terrible, awful, painful and miserable death. He has left his friends and family behind, stricken in grief, frightened and confused. And yet, despite this suffering, he never actually gave up on God.

Just before he dies, Jesus cries out “It is finished!” Adam Hamilton writes: “These last words are seen as a cry of victory, not of dereliction. Jesus had now completed what he came to do. A plan was fulfilled; a salvation was made possible; a love shown. He had taken our place. He had demonstrated both humanity’s brokenness and God’s love. He had offered himself fully to God as a sacrifice on behalf of humanity. As he died, it was finished. With these words, the noblest person who ever walked the face of this planet, God in the flesh, breathed his last.” This verse has also been translated as “It is consummated.” “It is done.” You could even translate it, freely, as “That’s enough now.”

Then Jesus offers his soul to God, once more as so many times before, and dies. Hamilton has written that “When darkness seems to prevail in life, it takes faith even to talk to God, even if it is to complain to him. These last words of Jesus from the cross show his absolute trust in God: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit …” This has been termed a model of prayer for everyone when afraid, sick, or facing one’s own death. It says in effect: “I commit myself to you, O God. In my living and in my dying, in the good times and in the bad, whatever I am and have, I place in your hands, O God, for your safekeeping.”

CaptureIn a world afflicted with a modern plague, this is the deep and fundamental significance of Good Friday to all Christians.

This – what we see and experience around us, every day – is not the whole story.

We are eternal souls living a mortal life. And no matter how tragic or how scary or how desperate that mortal life is, we cling to the knowledge that after Good Friday comes, without fail, Easter Sunday.

And on Easter Sunday, life wins. The pain is forgotten. The loss is forgotten. The grief is forgotten.

Because we don’t die, when we die.

If you fear or grieve this Good Friday, I and my family hold you in our hearts, and pray for God’s peace for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some years back, we lost our Mother to Alzheimer’s.

She was a gregarious and loveable person, and we kept her at home for as long as we could, until her confusion and behaviours made it simply impossible.

In the end, in distraction, we found her a good old folk’s home, and with great difficulty, too, as the aged care sector in Australia is a nightmare to navigate successfully. And there she duly whiled away her final months – in safety, but often in tears.

The tears weren’t just “Sundowners” – a well-known mood-shift that occurs in Alzheimer’s patients, especially around late afternoon. Fading light seems to be the trigger. The symptoms can get worse as the night goes on and usually get better by morning.

It was distressing for her, for the care-worn staff, and for us, so we often used to try and time our visits for this time of day to give her a lift.

You can read more about it here: not to mention my own musings about ageing.

But her general distress was more than that.

Like a recent report in Australia revealed, she was one of 40% of old age home residents suffering habitually from depression.

The depression was caused by psychological dislocation – a loss of friends and family, a loss of whatever she could recall as “normal”, a loss of privacy, an inability to relate to the new world around her, or to make friends.

To get away from the psychobabble for a moment, in simple terms her biggest problem was that she was lonely. And in simple terms, there was very little anyone around her could do about it.

In the UK and now in Australia, TV series have revealed how teachers visiting elderly patients with a bunch of four year old pre-schoolers in tow is good for both groups. The elderly people experience physical and cognitive improvement, and improved mood, too. The kids just seem to love it. Care workers have known this for years – taking children, especially young children, into care environments is invigorating for the residents. Ditto animals, especially if they had companion pets before. They are both a dash of welcome reality, for people for whom reality has too often become dark and bleak.

As we move into a period where our aged care services worldwide are going to come under increasing pressure as the Baby Boomers start to age and die off, we wonder if we cannot find a better model for looking after our frail friends, family members and neighbours.

In less urbanised (and often poorer) environments, the aged stay in the community much longer – perhaps throughout their final days – cared for on an ad hoc basis by those in the village around them. They can wander safely, and access their neighbours, children, and animals.

They often still engage in food preparation, or piecemeal work.

For thousands of years, such elderly people have been loved and nourished in the environment they have lived in all their lives.

As a by-product of that situation, their lives are not endlessly prolonged by medical intervention which is freely available in care environments, but not necessarily to the long-term benefit of the patient. In a village in Africa, the Steppes, or Asia, an elderly person struck with an infection, or complications from a fall, may just fade away.

But in a Western care environment they are resuscitated, whisked off to hospital and then back to their care home, and regularly pumped full of prophylactic drugs.

So the question we need to face is: just because we CAN save an elderly patient, does that mean we should, if the point of saving them is simply to return them to a place that through no-one’s fault, they are uncomfortable and unhappy in?

There is another assumption that needs to be challenged, too, which is someone with a diagnosis of Alzheimers is someone who is gaga. This is simply not true. Increasingly, people live with Alzheimer’s for a very long time, buoyed up by better medication, exercise, deliberate mental engagement, engagement with other people and more. We are going to need to educate the public about the positive possibilities for people with dementia, and organise society so they are better integrated with the world around them. It is vital to their progress. And happiness. One thing that seems sure to us is that plonking them in “traditional” aged care will do little to prolong their useful life – and this is not to criticise the dedicated and skilful people that work in the sector. They do their best.

Ultimately, we need to ask “What is the most important thing for an elderly person with Alzheimer’s?” In our view, it is surely that they live out their final days with dignity and as much contentment as possible. Our current systems may provide the former – although they often do not – but very few people would argue that they do the latter.

A little contentment in our declining years shouldn’t be too hard to devise, but in our view we need to start rethinking aged care fundamentally, and now. Because right now, we are failing our older brothers and sisters, and it’s only going to get worse.

We need to think harder, and do better.

 

 

Angry dog

Hard on the heels of the research that dogs have evolved to look up to us with longing eyes to get … well, pretty much whatever it is they want, in our household at least … there is now a fascinating set of research findings that suggest dogs can discern when humans aren’t nice people.

Long suspected, it now appears to have been proven, as you can read below.

Science Confirms That Dogs Can Recognize A Bad Person

We have long suspected this to be the case. When about ten years old, we were walking our Norfolk Terrier – Tim, after Dickens’s Tiny Tim – down the hill to Langland Beach in Mumbles, at the bottom of which was a large art deco public toilet block.

A man – nondescript, forties, seemingly harmless – struck up a conversation on the way down the hill, noting how nice the dog was.

Except he wasn’t. Nice. He snarled, and bared his teeth, and ran in circles on the end of his lead, and wouldn’t let the man near him to pat him or any such activity. He snarled and barked all down the hill.

As his owner, and a polite little boy, I was shocked, and apologetic. It was totally out of character for the dog.

At the bottom of the hill, the guy asked if I wanted to come into the toilets with him, as I probably needed to go to the toilet, right?

Norfolk TerrierOh no I didn’t. My child safety training had been excellent. As he went in, I hightailed it back up the hill dragging the poor bloody dog behind me, to collapse in tears at my mother’s feet.

Looking back, I saw the man come out of the toilet again, and cast around looking for me.

Fuck him. And thank you to the dog. He knew.

PS Did we mention we had a bird who used to walk to the front door when I was still a mile away in the car?

Good day, Dear Reader

We were recently thrilled, not to say mildly amazed, to have a short story which we wrote almost on the off chance, selected as a finalist for the prestigious Ada Cambridge prize at the well known WillyLitFest.

It was our first time ever submitting a story to anything, so now, of course, we will submit endlessly to prizes all over the world, not to say publishers, and probably get knocked back by every one, but in the meantime we will bask in the misapprehension that all one has to do is write and enter, and all will be well.

Many people have asked if they could read the story, which is published along with all the other shortlisted and winning poetry and stories. But for anyone who can’t get to Williamstown to buy a copy, here is my story. It has been professionally edited, so any mistakes are mine alone.

The Blitz in Swansea

SCARLET NIGHTS

The woman emerged slowly from under­­ the corrugated roof of the Anderson shelter. The dawn light was barely discernible over to the east – a lick of paint along the edge of the clouds that spread across Swansea Bay like a dirty counterpane, towards where she knew the docks would already be rousing themselves.

The sky lowered an ugly black, and she shivered, despite wearing two jumpers under her thick woollen overcoat. It had been threatening to snow for days, and yesterday there had been momentary sleet as well as the endless drizzle and rain.

She looked at the soil banked up on the sides of the shelter.British convoy attacked

He’d done a good job of it, home on leave for those four days at Christmas, though a day of that was lost travelling up and down from Plymouth.

She’d hugged him tightly, chiding him, though, for making the journey, telling him he should have stayed in Plymouth with his mates and had a couple of days in the pub. He just laughed quietly and told her he’d never do that.

All he’d thought about on the convoys across the Atlantic was making it through to see her again, and the boy. She’d expected him to just take it easy and eat whatever she managed to pull together to spoil him for a Christmas lunch, but he’d shared a small celebratory whisky with her and then gone straight to the back garden, and started burying the new shelter in soil, hacking away at the stone-hard ground with a pick-axe.

After a day, the rest of the garden was effectively destroyed, but the shelter had its extra layer of protection.

Then Christmas Day intervened, and she insisted he go to the Prince of Wales for a pint while she prepared a chicken she had near-begged from her distant cousin the butcher, with all her meat coupons for a month, and a none-too-subtle appeal to family loyalty.

anderson shelterOn Boxing Day, he disappeared for an hour and came back with seedlings of cabbage and Brussels sprouts, and showed her how to keep them warm in punnets in the conservatory for a little while, and told her when to transplant them to the roof and sides of the shelter. And then he was gone again, back to the grey waves and hunting U-boats, his shy smile playing on his face in her memory. She had planted the vegetables, and prayed they would take. Food was getting scarce, and the boy was painfully thin. Despite the bite in the wind, it looked as if some of them might make it, at least.

She heard a cry and hurried back to the shelter. The boy had been grizzling; he had been awake most of the night before falling asleep just an hour ago. He definitely had a fever, since the previous morning she thought, and it seemed to be no better despite her giving him doses of aspirin powder mixed in a little milk. Feeling his forehead with the back of her hand, she was now alarmed. It was even more clammy, and hot.

She lifted him from under the blanket with ease, his tiny body belying his seven months, and rocked him gently, but he just cried. She dipped a cloth in a mug of water and wiped his head, but he shook it and turned it away from her. So she opened the door to the shelter a crack with her shoulder, and sat down with him again, willing the cool air to make him feel more comfortable.

She moved back with him into the mock Tudor-timbered semi-detached home. She loved the little circular close with its matching houses, though she never imagined she would live there alone for any length of time. The windows hid their secrets behind the white chintz. She was but a stone’s throw from the lawn tennis club where she had played almost every day as a teenager, and St Paul’s and Holy Trinity Anglican Church within whose dank medieval walls she took solace, but days like this she felt very lonely. She made herself a cup of tea, taking care to warm the pot as her mother had taught her, and stared helplessly at the little lad turning fitfully in his cot, still crying.

When she had finished, and washed and replaced the cup on the tall boy, and leaving him in his cot still crying but near, it seemed, to exhaustion, she went next door and knocked tentatively. She didn’t know Isabella Jones well, but she knew she was a nurse at Singleton Hospital, and so might have a better idea what to do.

‘Coming! Stay there!’ came from within. After a minute, the leadlighted door swung open, and Mrs Jones was there, fastening a nightgown, her hair tied up in a towel.

‘Oh, hello there, sorry, I just got off nights, was having a bath. I thought they were sending to bring me back again. It happens. Gosh, don’t stand there, you’ll catch your death. Or I will. Come in. Come in.’

She explained she couldn’t. The boy. She’d left him. But she didn’t know what to do. Could she come? Have a look?

A few minutes later they were standing over the cot. The nurse felt his forehead as she had, but also picked him up and put her head to his chest. Then she turned him round and listened to his back. She shook her head slightly, seeming confused. Did she have a teaspoon, by any chance?

She passed her the one she had just washed up after her cup of tea, and Isabella Jones, with some difficulty, managed to open the boy’s mouth and depressed his tongue a little with the back of the spoon.

She clucked, and returned him to his cot. After a few more tears for good measure, he quietened slightly and started to fall asleep again. She stroked his growing head of hair away from his eyes, and asked the woman for a block of ice from the little freezer box at the top of the refrigerator. She rubbed his forehead with it gently a couple of times, and then his lips, and worked it between her fingers, causing the ice to melt ever so slightly, and a trickle of cold water to enter the dozing boy’s mouth. It seemed to settle him further.

When he was quiet, the nurse went to the kitchen sink and washed her hands thoroughly with carbolic soap. She turned to the woman, a worried look on her face.

‘Look, cariad, I’m not a doctor, but you know I’ve seen just about everything in my time. We get to know things when we do half the doctor’s work for them nowadays, what with so many of them being off somewhere for the war, now.’

She paused, frowning.

‘There’s no point beating round the bush: I’d bet the King’s pound to a beggar’s penny he’s got Scarlet Fever. His throat looks very sore and his tongue is all white with little red spots. It’s an early sign. It’s called Strawberry tongue.

I’d say by tonight or tomorrow morning the white will have gone and his tongue will all be bright red, and then he might get spots on his body, and you can pretty much guarantee his little cheeks will go a nice shade of bright pink. Can’t miss it.’

The woman looked at each other, concern on the face of one and something close to terror on the face of the other.

The danger, the nurse explained, was the fever. Or that the infection would spread to the organs of the little body. Meningitis. Even rheumatic fever of the heart. It used to happen a lot, less so nowadays, thank goodness. She started ticking things off:

‘You’ve just got to get his fever down, and keep him as cool as possible. His temperature might go up to 102 and stay there for a while, so the aspirin will help, and it will help his poor throat too. There is an anti-toxin but it’s a toss-up whether there’s any around. I’ll walk back to the hospital and ask. And I’ll get Dr Mullaway to come round and look, too.’

The woman was all for simply picking the boy up and walking round there with her, but the nurse firmly said no.

‘They’d lock him and you in a room, dear and you’d be there for days. It’s very infectious, that’s why I washed up so carefully. And they couldn’t possibly risk having him in a place with lots of sick and injured people in it because they’d be dead set to catch it more easily. It could kill people, just taking him there. Dear me, no, that would never do.’

Excusing herself, the nurse bustled next door, and a little while later, with a wave, she headed off down the street. After what seemed like an age, with the woman just sitting at the kitchen table staring at the little boy, and occasionally wetting his forehead, she saw the nurse return and leapt up to have the door open before she got there.

Yes, she had told the Doctor, who had promised to call on his way home that evening. Meanwhile, here was some calamine lotion in case the boy developed a rash that was itchy – ‘Their skin feels like sandpaper, gets very dry, drives them mad. Specially on their back, and they can’t reach that, of course.’ – some more aspirin powder – ‘Give him a little more, it won’t kill him, but the fever might.’ – and she passed her a very light gown made of soft cotton. ‘Put that on him, not that thing he’s got on now. It’s too hot.’ She tapped the front door. ‘And keep this open a bit, and get the temperature in the house down. If he gets even hotter, pop him in the kitchen sink and let him have a cool bath. Pat him dry, but not perfectly dry.’

The woman nodded, taking it all in. Her neighbour excused herself. ‘I have to get some sleep. I’m on again at four. I’ll drop in before that.’

The day dragged by. Outside a light drizzle fell, whipped up by the west wind beating up the Bristol Channel. Mercifully the child slept, from time to time, his rest punctuated by bursts of distress. She slept in the kitchen chair for a few minutes here and there, but found his silences when she slept unnerving. She kept checking him to be sure he was still breathing.

She forgot to eat herself, but managed to get a little warm milk into him, but soon he rejected the bottle and took to crying again. When her neighbour reappeared, the mother’s red eyes were filled with tears with frustration, and gritty from lack of sleep.

The nurse repeated the earlier examination, and this time she had brought with her a thermometer, which she held under the baby’s armpit for as long as he would permit it, and then she examined it carefully. She nodded.

‘It’s just under 102. Bang on for Scarlet Fever. And his tongue is redder. But he seems tougher than he looks, poor little bugger. He’s still strong, going by that set of good Welsh lungs on him. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Mullaway will be along, but I expect he’ll say the same.’

She waited. An hour passed. Then another. It was getting quite dark now, and she couldn’t look out of the window, with the blinds drawn for the blackout. The boy was unchanged. She listened for the swing of the garden gate and a man’s steps on the path. She listened for a very long time.

It started, with no warning, at almost exactly seven thirty.

The ground shook with repeated tremors, each followed the moment after by the unmistakeable crump of a bomb exploding, and then soon after by the boom-boom-boom of anti aircraft guns responding and the distant howl of air raid sirens. She scooped up the boy and rushed to the front door in horror, flinging it open and looking out. It was not the first time Swansea had been bombed, of course, and she knew to grab her coat, a bottle for the boy, and head to the air raid shelter in the back garden immediately. But she paused, for just a few seconds, mesmerised by explosion after explosion from the east, over by the City centre, and the docks, and now and then a blinding series of flashes and resulting fire from Townhill away to the left. Uttering a quick prayer, she rushed to the shelter, pulling it closed behind her, and sat there nursing the screaming child in complete terror.

The barrage continued for hours. Whenever she thought it might have ended, the bombs started falling again. Once she heard an ack-ack gun nearby rattling out its furious tune, and she thought it must be the one sited atop the hospital. Most of the bombs seemed to her to be falling over to the east and north, but once there was an almighty crash from … from where? From what could have been her own home for all she knew, but she was too afraid to open the door to the shelter. It seemed awfully close.

After the alarms had subsided and it seemed there were no more explosions, she dared to look out. Her hand flew to her mouth as she could see that from one side of the horizon to another there seemed to be a continuous sheet of vivid flame and acrid smoke. And right nearby, in what must be the next street, a house was ablaze, its roof already well alight. She knew that people would already be there, passing buckets of water to douse the flames, and she would have helped, but she could not leave the boy, nor could she take him, so she just stared, mutely, in agony for the people concerned.

When day came, the true nature of what had happened was obvious. A massive pall of smoke hung over everything, seemingly incapable of being disturbed by the wind, such was its thickness. A sickly-sweet smell of burning oil pervaded the air. All her neighbours were gathered in the street, huddled in small groups; the occasional car came and went. As the boy seemed settled for a moment, she left him in his cot again and approached one tight knot of women to listen.

‘It’s all still burning. My Matthew, he’s over there, they’ve called in all the wardens and police, every single fire engine, and the army, too. It’s a right bloody mess. Brynhyfryd, Townhill and Manselton got it the worst. And Matthew says they flattened the Regimental HQ for the Royal Artillery, but even so they kept fighting back with any guns they had. There’s hundreds dead, they say. Hundreds. And God knows where they’re going to put all the people who’ve lost their homes.’ She gestured to her right. ‘They’ve lost everything. Only moved in there six weeks ago. And they’d done a lovely job of the bathroom. Such a shame.’

The woman knocked on Isabella’s door, but there was no reply. She walked her kitchen, back and forth, chewing on a finger, not knowing what to do for the best. At one point she went down on her knees by the little crucifix in the bedroom, and prayed for guidance. The boy seemed no better, but no worse. Although when she took off the little hospital garment and bathed him, she saw that a bright red rash had appeared on his lower legs.

She walked to the end of the road with him, but then walked back. The streets seemed eerily quiet. She picked up the phone in her hallway, but it was dead.

Around five thirty, just as dusk was falling, with the fires still burning in the distance, there came a knock at the door. Dr Mullaway introduced himself, wearily, and apologised for not having come sooner, but …

He simply waved his hand in the direction of the events of the night before.

The words tumbled out of her mouth chaotically, the emotion of the last two days finally breaking, like a dam: his fever, he’d been alright and then suddenly, and the nurse’s advice, his tongue, see? Her husband was away, she didn’t know what to do, but how is he, Doctor? You hear these things, such terrible things, about children dying from Scarlet Fever, and I can’t get out, and I don’t know, and look, look at his legs, now the poor thing, his legs.

She sucked in a great gulp of air and looked at the Doctor, her face a mixture of worry and anger. ‘His legs! Poor little mite! Now look at his legs!’

The Doctor looked at the little nuggety woman, and for the briefest of moments his eyes blazed. But then he caught himself.

‘At least he’s still got his legs,’ he said quietly. Almost in a whisper.

Mullaway looked at her steadily, while she composed herself, then proceeded to examine the boy carefully. She said not another word until he’d finished.

‘Just keep doing what you’re doing,’ he said in the end. ‘Good luck.’ And he left.

And that night, the sirens howled again. And the next night.

In later years – decades later, a lifetime later – when her man was long dead, and the boy had three children of his own, she would repeat Mullaway’s words to herself. Sometimes when she would sit and watch the boy swim, or run, or playing with his kids.

Or she would just look at him when he was standing there.

‘At least he’s still got his legs,’ she would say. To herself, mainly.

And then she would tap the arm of her chair, or clap her hands together, and change the subject.

As if she’d said nothing, and nothing had happened.

 

HISTORICAL NOTE

The worst bombing of Swansea in South Wales occurred over three nights on 19th, 20th, and 21st February 1941. The period known as the Three Nights’ Blitz started at 7.30 pm on 19 February. My mother and brother survived the event in an Anderson Shelter in Brynewydd Gardens, Sketty Green. By the time the ‘all clear’ siren sounded after three days, major parts of the city had been destroyed, and 230 people were dead and 409 injured. 7,000 people lost their homes. The city centre suffered direct hits that started major conflagrations, destroying many commercial premises. It has still not been entirely rebuilt.

A total of nearly 14 hours of enemy activity were recorded. A total of 1,273 High Explosive bombs and 56,000 Incendiary bombs were estimated to have been dropped. An area measuring approximately 41 acres was targeted, with 857 properties destroyed and 11,000 damaged. To raise morale following the blitz, the King and Queen as well as the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, visited Swansea.

Paraprosdokians #3

Posted: April 8, 2019 in Humour, Life
Tags: , , ,

Regular readers – you know who you are – will know that we are particular fans of a very particular kind of joke called a Paraprosdokian.

paraprosdokian (/pærəprɒsˈdkiən/) is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence, phrase, or larger discourse is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists. Some paraprosdokians not only change the meaning of an early phrase, but they also play on the double meaning of a particular word, creating a form of syllepsis.

Anyhow, we came across a new bunch today, and they’re rather good:

You can lead a horse to water, but you’ll need help to drown it.

Too many cooks won’t fit in the broth.

A bird in the hand is a law suit waiting to happen.

Red sky at night, barn’s on fire.

Red sky in the morning, barn’s still on fire.

A fool and his money is good to go drinking with.

The lawnmower is mightier than the sward.

People in glass houses shouldn’t throw swinger’s parties.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single Internet search.

Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not really out to get you.

Got any others you’d care to share, Dear Reader?

 

Screen Shot 2019-04-08 at 4.43.23 pm

I want to write a poem

Just dripping with angst

Jam-packed with pathos

With oodles of empathy

To tear the hearts out of teenage girls

and stir those of tired old men

I want to write a poem

That years later will still sound fresh

Riddled with irony

Spilling meaning everywhere

Entrancing yet confusing

Illuminating but complex.

I want to write a poem

That drags you in,

locks you into contemplation

pesters you to deal with it

like a nagging ringtone

made solely of words.

 

But you got this, instead.

I need a gin.

 

#poetry #writing #poems #creativity

PS the book is still for sale – get one when you next Amazon yourself.
https://www.amazon.com/Read-Me-Poems-One-Story/dp/1409298604

Our regular Reader, and Facebook friends, will know that we are somewhat exercised over the collective insanity that is Brexit. Wandering around the world wide interweb thingy, we saw this: To us, it seems remarkably apposite:

Leavers “We voted for Brexit, now you Remainers need to implement it”

Remainers “But it’s not possible!”

Leavers “The People Have Spoken. Therefore it is possible. You just have to think positively.”

Remainers “And do what exactly?”

Leavers “Come up with a Plan that will leave us all better off outside the EU than in it.”

Remainers “But that’s not possible!”

Leavers “Quit with the negative vibes. The People Have Spoken.”

Remainers “But even you don’t know how!”

Leavers “That’s your problem, we’ve done our bit and voted, we’re going to sit here and eat popcorn and watch as you do it.”

Remainers “Shouldn’t you do it? It was your idea. We were happy.”

Leavers “It’s not up to us to work out the detail, it’s up to you experts.”

Remainers “I thought you’d had enough of experts?”

Leavers “Remain experts.”

Remainers “There are no Leave experts.”

Leavers “Then you’ll have to do it then. Oh, and by the way, no dragging your feet or complaining about it, because if you do a deal we don’t want, we’ll eat you alive.”

Remainers “But you don’t know what you want!”

Leavers “We want massive economic growth, no migration, free trade with the EU and every other country, on our terms, the revival of British industry, re-open the coal mines, tea and vicars on every village green, some nice bunting, and maybe restoration of the empire.”

Remainers “You’re delusional.”

Leavers “We’re a delusional majority. DEMOCRACY! So do the thing that isn’t possible, very quickly, and give all Leavers what they want, even though they don’t know what they want, and ignore the 16 million other voters who disagree. They’re tight trouser latte-sipping hipsters who whine all the time. Who cares?”

This was created by Ishtar Ostaria and kudos to Ish.

We’d like to engage in one more bit of speculation.

The best intelligence at the moment seems to be that May will bring a deal back to the UK Parliament to pass which leaves the situation virtually as it is now, with Britain inside the EU, except Britain will lose all influence over the EU by not having any input in the EU parliament or ministerial conflabs. How that improves Britain’s standing is beyond us, even though it is what we speculated would happen years ago.

OR May will come back to the Parliament and say “This can’t be done, we need to defer Article 50, possibly for quite some time.”

This will create a political furore in Britain, even if it actually makes sense.

May might then go to the country for a renewed mandate, and with Labour languishing because of their leadership’s inability to oppose Brexit, and the Lib Dems seemingly unable to make up significant ground on them, she will probably get it. Which won’t make Brexit any easier, but which will entrench probably the most incompetent Government in recent British history in power for another five years.

British civil discourse is being rent asunder by political toxicity, and the country is led by donkeys. It’d be funny, if it wasn’t so tragic.

Oh those crazy, whacky Catalonians.

In Catalonia – that’s the bit in the North East of Spain constantly arguing with Madrid – think Barcelona and surrounds – don’t be surprised if you’re admiring someone’s nativity scene and there, hidden among the traditional nativity characters, is a little figure, trousers down, doing his business right in the middle of the holy scene.

As the BBC report, a pessebre, a Catalan nativity scene, contains all the usual suspects. There’s Mary and Joseph gazing down lovingly at baby Jesus, sleeping in his manger. There are the oxen, gently lowing, and perhaps some shepherds. But look closer, and hidden among the traditional characters is a little figure, trousers down, “taking a dump” right in the middle of the holy scene.

 

Yes, he’s doing what you think he’s doing.

 

The caganer – literally ‘defecator’ – is a staple of Christmas in the area. The traditional figure depicts a peasant wearing black trousers, a white shirt and the classic red Catalan cap – the barretina. He may also be smoking a pipe and reading a newspaper. As you do, when …

“It’s like the funny part of something that is supposed to be very serious – the nativity,” laughed caganer collector Marc-Ignasi Corral, 53, from Barcelona. Yes, the figure is so popular it even has its very own society, the Friends of the Caganer Association (L’associació Amics del Caganer), of which Corral is a proud member. Founded in 1990, the society has around 70 members – some from as far afield as the US – who meet twice a year.

Traditional caganers are made from clay, fired in a kiln of more than 1,000C, then hand-painted. As the industry has grown, the caganer has evolved; now there are many different kinds, both in design and material.

“I’ve got ones made of soap, I’ve got chocolate ones, but those are meant to be eaten of course,” said Corral, whose bookshelves are dotted with his collection of more than 200 caganers. “I’ve got glass ones… I’ve seen them made from Nespresso capsules.”

Firmly planted in folk tradition, the roots of the caganer are vague, but generally agreed to date from around the late 17th or early 18th Century when the prevailing Baroque tradition, both in Catalonia and beyond, focused on realism in art, sculpture and literature.

In their book El Caganer, authors Jordi Arruga and Josep Mañà write: “This was a time characterised by extreme realism… all of which relied heavily on descriptions of local life and customs. Here, working conditions and home life were used as artistic themes.”

The reason it has been passed down the generations, however, is clear: the idea of defecating has traditionally long been linked to everything from good luck to prosperity to good health.

“Excrement equals fertilisation equals money equals luck and prosperity. Or so say the anthropologists,” said historian Enric Ucelay-Da Cal, emeritus professor at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University“It is said that to not put a caganer in the crib will bring bad luck,” added caganer maker Marc Alos Pla, whose family runs caganer.com, the world’s biggest caganer producer. This year he predicts sales will surpass 30,000.

And far from seeing the caganer as uncouth or even graphic, Catalans have a relaxed view of them as merely depicting a natural act.

“We don’t see it as rude. I mean as rude as when you go to the toilet,” Corral laughed. “We hide things – we’re in a society where we’re hiding everything. We hide death for instance.”

Furthermore, Catalans do not stop at one unusual Christmas tradition.

 

Give the poo log a whack!

 

Caga Tió, literally the ‘Defecating Log’ (also called the Tió de Nadal, the ‘Christmas Log’) is also a staple in many Catalan homes in the run-up to Christmas. On the feast of the Immaculate Conception, on 8 December, families start ‘feeding’ Caga Tió scraps of food. He is covered with a blanket to keep him warm until, on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, when he has had enough to ‘eat’, the children hit him with sticks while singing a song that encourages him to defecate:

Caga tió / Poo log
Caga torró, avellanes i mató / Poo nougat, hazelnuts and mató (cheese)
Si no cagues bé / if you don’t Poo well,
et daré un cop de bastó / I’ll hit you with a stick
Caga tió / Poo log!

Of course the log doesn’t produce any old excrement … he defecates Christmas presents.

Before hitting the Tió, children go to another part of the house to pray for him to bring them gifts, while their parents take the opportunity to stash small treats like Christmas sweets under the blanket.

“The Tió seems to be a pretty old Christmas idea… in medieval times it was found all over Europe, from Scandinavia down to the Western Mediterranean: the idea of a ‘Yule Log’, which lasted until about World War Two,” Ucelay-Da Cal said.

What is it about these traditions, which in other parts of the world might be seen as explicit or rude, that attracts so many Catalans?

“I love the transgression of norms, the tradition they represent and the artwork in itself,” Corral explained, while Ucelay-Da Cal said the caganer “has a pleasantly subversive quality, naughty but nice, as it were.”

In fact, the themes of defecation are reserved not only for Christmas, but run like a common thread through Catalan culture, from idioms to art.“This fits in with a Catalan (and Spanish) taste for egalitarianism: everybody [poos], however important they may be,” said Ucelay-Da Cal.

When it comes to language, Catalan is filled with stool-related sayings and idioms. Where in English we might say two extremely close people are ‘as thick as thieves’ and in Spanish that phrase would be ‘como uña y carne’ (like [finger] nail and flesh), but Catalans cheerfully say two are people are like ‘cul i merda’– backside and excrement.

“There is a cliché that Germanic languages are [full of] faecal metaphors, while Romance languages stress virility. But certainly the Spanish tradition – and very specifically Catalan scatological custom – would deny this assertion,” Ucelay-Da Cal said.

Defecation has also appeared in Catalan art and literature going back hundreds of years.

In his book, Barcelona, which looks at Catalan history, art and culture, art critic Robert Hughes writes that the figure of the caganer “makes an unmistakable entrance into 20th-Century art” in the work of Joan Miró.

Really? Look closely at Miró’s 1921-22 painting The Farm, and you will see what looks like a small child squatting close to his mother while she does the washing.

This boy, Hughes writes, “is none other than the caganer of Miró’s childhood Christmases. It may also be Miró himself, the future painter of Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement (1935).”

A whole new take on Santa

Christmas is full of funny stuff.

At our business, Dear Reader, Magnum Opus Partners, we have had some fun this year with the Santa Claus tradition.

Did you know the image of Santa we know in many parts of the world today was crafted by ad agencies – and especially Coca Cola’s team of creative thinkers?

He’s not even the same the world over – the traditional British Santa is actually supposed to wear green and has a wreath of holly on his head, and in Russia Santa is a demon accompanied by a snow maiden! In Sweden Santa is a dwarf, in Iceland he’s thirteen naughty elves, and in Holland Sinterklass is a saintly character wearing a bishop’s hat.

In Germany, Austria, and the Czech and Slovakian regions, Santa Claus isn’t even male – children are visited by a female “Christ Child”, who is a benevolent gift-bringer with long curly blonde hair! In Spain and other Hispanic countries, kids welcome Three Wise Men bearing gifts. And it doesn’t even happen on Christmas Day, but on January 6th, the day the Three Wise Men supposedly arrived at the stable.

So what, we wondered, what would Santa look like if his legend was being created by some groovy lunch of creatives today? No great big rotund guy with a white beard, that’s for sure!

Have a look and see what you think of our musings!

 

 

And a very Merry Christmas to all Wellthisiswhatithink readers.

May your Christmas-time be filled with wonder, joy and contentment. And may 2019 bring you at least some of what your heart desires.

 

 

A grieving NSW mother, whose teenage daughter was sent home from hospital a day before she died from meningococcal, has warned others to be aware of the potentially deadly symptoms.

Central Coast student Mischelle Rhodes, 19, came down with a fever last Tuesday, but was sent home from hospital with painkillers and died the next day.

“The hospital did some blood tests, gave her Nurofen, gave her Panadol and sent her home,” the student’s mother Anjini Rhodes said.

“They said she was okay.”

A Central Coast mother is grieving after her teenage daughter Mischelle Rhodes, 19, died from meningococcal.

Central Coast student Mischelle Rhodes, 19, came down with a fever last Tuesday, but was sent home from hospital with painkillers. Source: 7News

By Wednesday morning, Mischelle was getting worse and began vomiting.

Her mum took her back to Gosford Hospital and by lunchtime there was quick-spreading rash.

“And she told me, ‘Doctors told me I’m going to die’,” Ms Rhodes said. Her organs were indeed failing and Mischelle sadly died that afternoon.

“I thought she was going to be okay… [she was] such a healthy, beautiful girl. I didn’t think this was going to happen,” the grieving mother cried as she described her pain.

“It just took my beautiful girl away so fast.”

A Central Coast mother is grieving after her teenage daughter Mischelle Rhodes, 19, died from meningococcal.

The teen died the next day after a rash quickly spread. Source: Mischelle Rhodes / Facebook

Symptoms to watch for include sudden onset of fever, joint pain, nausea, vomiting, headache, neck stiffness, sensitivity to light and a blotchy rash.

Her mother issued a warning to parents and others presenting symptoms, saying: “Don’t leave hospital until everything’s been looked at.”

Mischelle is the second meningococcal fatality on the Central Coast in a month, following the death of a 38-year-old woman. But the cases are not linked. There have been 41 meningococcal cases across NSW this year, including three which were fatal.

“It can strike pretty much anybody and at any age,” NSW Health’s Dr Peter Lewis said.

“We see cases at all ages and throughout the year, but this is actually the time of year where we tend to see more cases occurring.”

A free meningococcal vaccine is available for children aged 15 to 19.

Mission Beach, Far North Queensland, looking over to Dunk Island

A flying visit to Far North Queensland – in this case a wedding at seemingly endless Mission Beach – reminds me powerfully of my childhood visiting the coastal tropical paradise than runs almost the length of the Eastern seaboard of South Africa.

Like South Africa, the bizarre and the wonderful and the otherworldly abound in FNQ. Driving along little country lanes one passes over rickety old bridges covering deep slashes of dark, mysterious water; streams that tumble and cascade through the rainforest to the ocean turning into turgid, broad estuaries where the rainfall and sea mix.

This is not a place to step out of the car. There is hardly a waterway here that is not home to the ubiquitous salt-water crocodile. Slowing down and gazing out of the car window for tell-tale eyes or snouts reminds me powerfully of driving around African game reserves spotting rhinos amongst the thorn trees and bushes. You don’t get out of the car there, either, without the benefit of a guide and good running shoes. Here neither would help you much if you ventured incautiously into the creek, looking for some barramundi to BBQ for dinner, nestling beneath the waterside vegetation. Mr and Mrs Croc can make about 30mph through the water, and you’re easier to catch than a barra.

Better to stick to the beach, except swimming is unwise, even out of stinger season. The waters hereabouts are stocked with jellyfish of all kinds. Some will give you a nasty sting that’s reasonably easily treated with vinegar, or if none is to hand, urinating on the wound. The well-known “bluebottle” is one such – a blob of nastiness followed by a seemingly endless strand of stinging tail that wraps round your leg all too easily. But that’s just a nasty annoyance. Others, such as the virtually unspottable irukandji, will kill you, if the people with you don’t know that when you stop breathing you’re not yet dead, and if they perform mouth-to-mouth you’ll wake up again. But even if they are so briefed, who wants to find out how good their memory is? About a centimetre across at the biggest, their tendrils can be up to a metre in length. Their sting – they fire little barbs into you just to make sure – is 100 times more potent than a cobra and 1000 times more potent than a tarantulas. And that’s just the irukandji. There are others.

Back to the resort pool after a nice walk on the beach, then.

Mind you, while we’re discussing tarantulas, when walking after dark it’s wise to avoid the spiders webs that end up strung across paths in what seems like no time flat, especially as, yes, most of the spiders round here will give you a nasty suck. Luckily we spotted one substantial specimen crawling on our arm yesterday and flicked it off as it reared up to go for a nibble. We were not stung, but a blood pressure count taken up to an hour afterwards would have seen us whisked off to ER quick smart.

There are actually more killer sharks down south than there are up here, but they’re around. Mind you, their threat (which really is not very great, if you look at the stats) seems trivial when compared to the crocs. We were told that just a few days before our arrival a 4.2 metre specimen was spotted patrolling up and down the beach – not lurking in his estuary where he was meant to be. Backwards and forwards, with a hungry look in his eye.

Why are the crocs so numerous? Well, they’re protected, for one thing. But the real answer is easy. Lots of fish to eat. Lots and lots of fish. These waters are swarming with tasty comestibles for croc and man alike, which is why fishing would have to be pretty much the number 1 leisure activity in these parts, after drinking cold beer – and, of course, no one said you can’t drink beer and fish simultaneously.

None of the above should deter you from visiting. For one thing, the plant life in the area is worth a visit on its own. Riotous bursts of variegation and colour in endless variety are testament to a growing environment close to that of the Garden of Eden. Hot … damned hot … and very wet. Plants that are mere pot specimens in our home town grow here to above head height. With the blazing tropical sun broken up by the high branches of palm trees and then filtered again by the progressive layers of ferns and other delights, not only is it possible to stay cool, but one can also wander as if in a primordial landscape just metres from civilisation. So long as there are no water courses nearby.

Port St Johns “Second Beach”

As I said, it reminds me powerfully of childhood holidays in Natal and the Transkei/Pondoland. I fell to thinking of one time – we were at a delightful out-of-the-way spot called Second Beach at Port St Johns – and I would have been perhaps 11 – when a local Xhosa boy called Winston (after Winston Churchill) offered his services to our family as a gillie. Essentially, a baiter of hooks, a runner of errands, and a stand-in babysitter for me. Winston was maybe 14 and ineffably cool. Wise beyond his years, always smiling, never fatigued, endlessly obliging. For being permanently available to do whatever was needed, he was rewarded with what was then probably two or three pounds a day – enough for him to live moderately well, although I am sure it went home to his family, and he was gifted the occasional fish, which definitely did.

He seemed to have an almost magical ability to tell us where to cast our lines into the waves to catch the hard-fighting great-eating South African shad, even when there weren’t tell-tale flocks of seabirds diving into the waves to eat the bait fish on which the shad would gorge themselves. Indian shop-keepers – always at the beach before us no matter how early in the pearly dawn light we rose – would walk off the beach muttering “one fish, one fish”, which was code for “Not much around today, man.” But Winston would just stand looking at the water, one leg resting on the knee of the other in perfect balance, until he would point and motion to where he thought there might be fish. He was always right. It was freakish.

Winston saved my life twice that summer. One time, he took his eyes off me for a second when we were playing, (I was playing, he was nursemaiding), and I waded across an estuary to look at a metal sign on an obelisk in the water. As I got there, and started sinking inexorably, I saw that it was a warning against quicksand, in which I was now stuck. Winston swam across the top of the water and grabbed both my hands, pulling me up and out. I was terrified. He just chuckled.

Another time, we were in one of those yellow inflatable oval dinghy things that hang off the back of bigger boats, paddling around in the estuary, doing nothing much. I think I was carelessly dangling a line off the back, which might have stirred up the local fish population a little, as suddenly there was a massive crash on the bank next to us, and vast turbulence in the water. Ignorant, and excited, I went to the side of the boat to see what was what, and was batted back into the middle of the boat by Winston, who then stood there with his paddle raised. “Ingwenya!” he said to me urgently, “Ingwenya!” After a few moments he grabbed both oars and rowed for our lives. I have no doubt that had I leaned over the edge of the boat I would have been crocodile dinner. And Winston would have been in deep shit for having got “little baas” eaten.

When we got back to the holiday hut we were staying in I went and stole two Peter Stuyvestants from my brother’s pack and gave one to Winston, who I had admired smoking the most disgusting bush cheroots imaginable. From the pocket of his ragged shorts, which seemed cavernous enough to hold a seemingly endless cornucopia of useful things, he produced matches and we lit up and strolled to the beach to calm down.

“Ingwenya!” he laughed at me again, and did a little pantomime of a massive jaw closing shut over my head. “Ingwenya!” I assured him I had the point, and tried to convince him I wouldn’t be so stupid as to look over the edge of any boats, ever again. Certainly not in tropical waters. He didn’t understand a word I said, of course, but we just laughed and nodded, him smoking an entire cigarette in two or three huge draughts of smoke, which he blew out of his nose, and which I tried to emulate, but just ended up sneezing with watering eyes.

As I stared into the murky depths of forest and creek today, I caught myself wondering what might have happened to Winston.

Did he end up coughing his life away in the dust-filled gold and diamond mines around Jo’burg?

Did he get swept up in the communal violence that plagued South Africa during the transition to majority rule?

Or did he stay near Port St Johns, baiting hooks and rescuing little pale boys, and now he sits somewhere high on the hills in Transkei, surrounded by his family, and his cows, and watches the ineffable sunsets, and warns his grand-kids to watch out for crocs.

I like to think he does. I hope he has a long and happy old age. I hope he still catches fish. And has plenty of cigarettes.

The “little corporal” Napoleon, standing at about 5 feet 7 inches, was actually taller than most of his compatriots.

According to the National Post, this misconception may have arisen because of the difference between French and British inches at the time. In French measurements, Napoleon was 5 feet 2 inches, but French inches were longer than British ones.

 

35507231_10156072539736348_4686469748467171328_n

Others believe it all started with a satirical cartoon with Napoleon being held in an British general’s hand. Or is that the King? We’re not sure.

Just another example, we feel, of “history being written by the victors”. If Napoleon had won at Waterloo we suspect Wellington would have become a silly creature of fun with boots up to his arse, and Nelson a bent and hobbled cripple.

This historical oddity, though, raises an interesting question. How many sources for history do we really need if we are to attain a “balanced” view. What weight should be placed on various sources? And what duty do we owe to the living to get it right?

One would suppose very few French people feel especially hard done by because we generally think Napoleon was a short-arse. But let us take, for example, the history of indigenous owners of land since appropriated by Empires various or immigrants: the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, for example. They see the arrival of the British as a murderous, genocidal invasion of lands they had occupied for at least 40,000 years. Our view of the North American first peoples is founded almost entirely on the myth making of 19th century broadsheet writers and comic books, the owners of which had a vested interested in selling the “white man” as a brave and honourable creature, a position gleefully adopted by Hollywood who were selling movies to those white people’s descendants, of course, and not the grandchildren of the noble (and more often ignoble) savages. Blacks in Africa were invariably shown as feckless and ignorant, despite have created civilisations that pre-dated Europe by thousands of years – ditto the Arab world which was apparently entirely composed of wild eyed zealots with flashing knives and not some of the greatest scientists in history, Aztecs and Mayans did little more with their time than cut the hearts out of slaves and toss their bodies down the sides of pyramids despite centuries of learning on astronomy and mathematics that were centuries in advance of the “West”, the Chinese were corrupt satraps despite their progress in civil administration, medicine, art and literature, and so on and so on ad infinitum.

All these civilisations were the victims of “othering”. The process by which we ridicule, marginalise and often slaughter those whom we defeat, and we simply do not concede either honourable or laudable characteristics to the defeated.

So it is perhaps instructional to consider those who are “othered” by the media, politicians, and common opinion in the West today.

The myth-making runs in overtime about, in no particular order, “lazy, venal” South Americans, “disaffected, drug-addled” American people of colour, “dangerous, inhuman, violent” Muslims, (we are sick of pointing out that if Muslims as a group were really violent the West would currently be at war with 1.2 billion of them, and probably losing, but there it is), disorganised and corrupt Italians and Greeks, drunken Irish, endlessly warring Africans, and many more.

Well. It is our birthday, today, Dear Reader. We are getting older. As someone so kindly pointed out in a message to our mobile phone earlier, “your senior years are now really upon you”. Well, yes, they are. So if you will permit me, an observation from the full height of the mountain I have so far climbed.

Whomever we are discussing, and wherever they are in the world, what has struck me most forcefully as I have gone through this life is actually how similar people are. Whoever they are. Wherever they are. No matter what their cultural background.

People everywhere simply want to live in peace. To celebrate family, and have a chance to provide for them. To speak, walk and breathe freely. To live free from fear, and with enough wealth that they don’t fear want, either.

The same things essentially frighten all of us, and the same things usually please us, inspire us, and elevate us.

We are all much more alike than we are unalike.

One of the most educational things today is to observe on social media how a “meme” of something silly, charming, and encouraging can be shared by people of all cultures, all types, all ages, and all sexes, umpteen millions of times. Very often, those memes involve conspicuous acts of kindness. Of gentleness. Every time someone clicks “Share”, they are affirming our common humanity.

If social media has a true purpose, it is perhaps to remind us that what unites us, as a species, is much more than ever divides us.

This is not to argue for a common or enforced blandness. Educator, campaigner and orator Booker T Washington once said, “In all things social we can be as separate as the finger, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress”.

That’ll do me. For my birthday present, I’d really like it if you agreed, Dear Reader. Let’s stop “othering”, and be the hand that creates mutual progress.

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 1.45.26 pm

Sitting in the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, California looking back on his wasted life is Sirhan Sirhan, the aggrieved pro-Palestinian Jordanian who fifty years ago today fatally shot Bobby Kennedy for his support for selling war planes to Israel.

But what he killed that day was not only the wildly popular primary contender for the Democratic nomination for President, but also the post-war “big government” consensus that had held sway in America since the Depression. With Kennedy effectively died the idea that Government had a legitimate role in enabling social cohesion and attacking evils such as poverty and the racial divide.

After his death, the Democrats turned to Hubert Humphrey as a consensus candidate, but the bumbling Humphrey was never going to be a match for the charismatic and experienced Richard Nixon.

That event began a thirty year or more realignment to the right in American politics, which eventually led to a wider realignment around the democratic world, which affected both future Democratic candidates (such as Carter and Clinton) as well as notable Republicans such as Ronald Reagan. By the end of the process the “post war consensus” around enabling government and Keynsian economics was largely broken, and it is not clear yet whether or not it will ever be revived.

Texan political scientist Walter Dean Burnham’s 1970 book Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics presents a theory of American political development that focuses on the role of party systems that endure for several decades, only to be disrupted by a “critical election”. Such elections not only hand presidential and congressional power to the non-incumbent political party, but they do so in a dramatic way that repudiates the worn-out ideas of the old party and initiates a new era whose leaders govern on a new set of assumptions, ideologies, and public policies. The elections of 1860 and 1932 are perhaps the clearest examples of critical elections, and scholars have disagreed about how well Burnham’s theories still explain American electoral politics. Others contend that 1968 was a realigning election for Republicans holding the presidency from 1969 to 1977 and again from 1981 to 1993.

Some political scientists, such as Mayhew, are skeptical of the realignment theory altogether, saying there are no long-term patterns: “Electoral politics,” he wrote, “is to an important degree just one thing after another … Elections and their underlying causes are not usefully sortable into generation-long spans … It is a Rip Van Winkle view of democracy that voters come awake only once in a generation … It is too slippery, too binary, too apocalyptic, and it has come to be too much of a dead end.”

That is in all probability true. “Realignment” elections are probably the result of long-term trends that then coalesce around an individual or event. In this sense, the election of Margaret Thatcher in the UK is unquestionably onesuch, in that it can be seen as not so much an enthusiasm for Thatcher personally (for some time after her election in 1979 she actually languished in the polls and could arguably have been defeated in the 1983 election were it not for the Falklands War) but as an enduring and growing response to militant trade unionism that had disrupted the country during the previous Heath and Callaghan premierships.

In this sense, though, it is interesting to debate what type of America we might now see had Robert Kennedy survived and won the election. Would we have seen a rejuvenated consensus around government intervention, led by Kennedy’s personal charisma, and fervour? Or was Kennedy a “man out of time”, a liberal consensus man who belonged ten or twenty years earlier? It is an enticing discussion.

Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” in response to the dissent brokered by the civil rights movement thoroughly moved large numbers of older, conservative and male whites (most directly) into the Republican camp. Whether or not Kennedy’s personal appeal and rhetorical flourish would have kept them in the Democrat fold is impossible to say. Republican leaders consciously appealed to many white Southerners’ racial grievances in order to gain their support. Whether or not Kennedy could have “sold” a different narrative is hard to say. The Southern Strategy and its effectiveness certainly annoyed black and other minority voters. In 2005, Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman formally apologised to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a national civil rights organisation, for exploiting racial polarisation to win elections and ignoring the black vote. The very substantial preference for the Democrat ticket currently evidenced by the black population stems in part from this period and there can be little doubt that the election of Donald Trump reresented the most stark division between black and white voters in modern electoral history. Would Kennedy have reduced or prevented that divide? Who knows?

Certainly, many left-leaning leaders at the time felt Kennedy’s loss very keenly and for many Kennedy’s death ended the revival of American liberalism.

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 2.31.06 pm“King had prepared us for his death, and after it [MLK’s death] happened, there was no weeping, we immediately started figuring out how we were going to carry on the Poor People’s Campaign,” says former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, one of King’s closest aides.

But that maintenance of effort was scuppered by Kennedy’s death. “That was when I broke down,” says Young. “I think that the rational liberal democratic socialist view of the world, from Franklin Roosevelt all the way to Lyndon Johnson, was really cut short by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.”

Others disagree. “By the end of the 1960s, the forces that were swelling up against the Great Society, which was an extension of the New Deal of the 1930s, were going to defeat whoever the Democrats put up,” says HW Brands, historian and author. “Americans were disillusioned and angered by the violence of the 1960s, and by the failure of the Democratic governments of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to take Vietnam to a successful conclusion.”

Brands notes how also the Civil Rights movement had largely achieved its legislative aims, and so if either Martin Luther King Jr or Robert Kennedy had lived they would have had to battle the great American conundrum of economic inequality and poverty that has thwarted all others.

“That’s a much tougher nut to deal with going off the last 50 years of American politics,” Mr Brands says. “You can repeal laws against blacks, but can you mandate economic equality? Nobody’s figured out how to do it … for a society that is organised economically along capitalist lines.” It’s a fair point.

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 1.44.50 pm.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 1.44.58 pm.pngWhat is certain is that the election of Nixon and the general drift to the right that continues to this day resulted in economic policies – an understanding of the economic framework – that are wildly different to what went before … right up to until, perhaps, the election of an innately interventionist Trump administration, with its talk of directly investing in rustbelt industries, trade wars, and all the rest of it – which election can at least in part be squarely laid at the door of voter dis-satisfaction with the actual out-workings of the very “trickle down” economics that the Republicans for a generation have been enthusiastically promoting.

Yet as the result of the Trump revolution, American economic policy is now a curious (and not necessarily sustainable, or necessarily successful) mixture of lowering taxes and increasing spending, of triumphalist nationalism and “America First”, and an apparent rejection of free tradeism. Aided, no doubt, by Hillary Clinton’s unpopularity in some sections of the population, Trump’s election was above all a reaction to the fact that the new consensus, established after Kennedy’s death and pursued by both Democrats and Republicans, hasn’t really “worked”, either.

So it is at least worth speculating exactly what Sirhan Sirhan destroyed that day, 50 years ago. Jeremi Suri, a history professor and author, has commented: “Kennedy … was the last politician who came from a background of Franklin Roosevelt-influenced social welfare policies who could connect with rural voters,” Mr Suri says. “What ended in the late 1960s and early 1970s was a set of policies of expanding rights, expanding government services and assistance for those in need, and the backlash against that was facilitated by the absence of effective figures like Robert Kennedy.”

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 2.34.50 pm

So was Kennedy-ism the last gasp of the liberal consensus, or will we see that consensus revived, at least in part, by a new crop of populist centre-left politicians, in America and around the world, of whom Trump is merely, perhaps, a somewhat confused example?

How do we judge, for example, the huge popularity of a character like Bernie Sanders, a self proclaimed “democratic socialist”, whose economic prescription for America could have been written by any “big Government” thinker from 1926-1966 without anyone finding it in the least unusual or even worthy of much comment?

Was Kennedy’s death merely a pause in left-liberal consensus building, or the end of it?

Time, as always, will tell.

(Some of the quotations in this article previously appeared in a BBC article.)

To get uplifting words of wisdom in your Facebook feed every day, free of charge, just go here https://www.facebook.com/thoughtfortoday/ and click the Like button at the top of the page, where the pink arrow is pointing at it …

Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 12.41.55 pm

Thought for Today, Day 54 – feel with your heart; remember what’s important.

Helen Keller said: The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.

At 19 months old, Keller contracted an unknown illness which might have been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness left her both deaf and blind. At that time, she was able to communicate somewhat the six-year-old daughter of the family cook, who understood her signs; by the age of seven, Keller had more than 60 home signs to communicate with her family.

Even though blind and deaf, Helen Keller had passed through many obstacles and she learned to live with her disabilities. She learned how to tell which person was walking from the vibrations of their footsteps.

Later in life Keller became the world’s most famous activist for the disabled and a noted campaigner on many other issues.

One meeting she held was reported thus: “a message that will linger long with those fortunate enough to have received it. The wonderful girl who has so brilliantly triumphed over the triple afflictions of blindness, dumbness and deafness, gave a talk with her own lips on “Happiness,” and it will be remembered always as a piece of inspired teaching by those who heard it.

According to those who attended, Helen Keller spoke of the joy that life gave her. She was thankful for the faculties and abilities that she did possess and stated that the most productive pleasures she had were curiosity and imagination. Keller also spoke of the joy of service and the happiness that came from doing things for others … she imparted that “helping your fellow men were one’s only excuse for being in this world and in the doing of things to help one’s fellows lay the secret of lasting happiness.” She also told of the joys of loving work and accomplishment and the happiness of achievement. Although the entire lecture lasted only a little over an hour, it had a profound impact on the audience.

Now: what were you worrying about again?

#helenkeller #deafness #disability #courage #hope #thoughtfortoday

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 2.48.38 pm

I’m waiting for my Son to die. At least in Heaven there’s food.

 

Compassion fatigue?

Boredom?

Distracted by the Winter Olympics closing ceremony? Massacres in American schools? Trump’s latest tweet? Football?

What will it take to make you sit up and take notice?

Perhaps this. Warning: distressing.

http://www.bbc.com/news/video_and_audio/must_see/43163173/syria-war-children-struggle-to-survive-in-eastern-ghouta

#assad #syria #russia #civilians #children

If you want to share this story, which is something you could to do immediately to raise awareness of this utter disgrace, please cut and paste the link at the end of this sentence, and post it to your Facebook page or wherever: wp.me/p1LY0z-3ya

NEWS UPDATE

There appears to be some success in the outpouring of anger over Russia and Assad’s behaviour. Please KEEP sharing this story as often and as creatively as you can to ensure that pressure is kept up.?

See: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-43200956

 

Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 1.28.58 pm

Watching video footage of a Florida student recording the noise of a gunman firing an “AR-15 style rifle” inside their school – killing at least 17 people, and possibly more when the injured either recover or tragically do not – was not good for one’s peace of mind.

The horrific and terrifying noise that such a rifle makes just a few feet from you will live in the mind of viewers forever. What the long-term effect will be on those who were actually there will be, God only knows. The by-now all too familiar photographs of traumatised children and parents are almost too awful to contemplate.

Indeed, one of the greatest dangers of the current situation in America is that people will turn away, feeling helpless, or simply ignore events through compassion fatigue.

This was the 18th school shooting in the USA this year. Which, it should be pointed out, is not even into its third month.

Worse, the alleged perpetrator was known to the school, had been disciplined while there, and previously banned from the campus with a backpack on.

The time for America to ignore its hugely powerful gun lobby and take action to prevent more occurrences of these acts is now so long overdue that it is not even worth fulminating in shock any more.

America must do take following steps now, or accept that disenfranchised marginalised youths – nearly always male, and clearly disturbed – will continue to act like this with relative impunity.

No, this problem will not be fixed overnight – the solution will be long, tortuous and depressingly tough and complex – but every day that is wasted simply invites another such event. America has to start this journey sometime. If not now, when?

  • “Assault style/AR-15” rifles must be banned throughout the country. For everyone. They are unnecessary for vermin control on farms, they are unnecessary for hunting, they are unnecessary for personal protection, and in the wrong hands they are irreparably and uniquely harmful. That’s it, no discussion, the time has come. Someone needs to show some leadership and get this change implemented.
  • No gun of any kind should be sold, by anyone, to anyone, without thorough psychological and background checks. America needs, as far as it can, to keep guns out of the hands of people who are likely to turn them on themselves or others.
  • The USA needs a gun amnesty to encourage legacy guns out of the community so they can be destroyed. This will reduce the number of guns stolen (currently 200,000 a year from legal gun owners) that end up int he criminal community.
  • People keeping unsecured weapons in their home should be subject to tough new nationally-agreed sanctions including, but not limited to, the permanent removal of their weapons and a ban on them replacing them

None of these aims should be rejected by reasonable advocates of gun ownership. Most people outside of America consider, as we have said many times before, that the right to bear arms is as inherently unwise as the right to arm bears. But it has to be accepted that the American public has a unique view of the matter. But that view can still be respected while making America’s children – indeed, all their population – much safer.

Some will say, again, that the problem is schools that are gun free zones, that all that is needed is more and better armed security. This is, of course, a simple nonsense. No school facility can ever be adequately secured against a madman with a semi-automatic rifle, and that’s the only point that matters. Unless you want to turn schools into the equivalent of armed prison camps, which is not only impractical, but is also not healthy for the children inside them. Why would America want to do that, when Americans can choose instead to rid society of semi-automatic weapons if they so wish?

Some will say, again, that guns are not the only deadly weapon available to assailants. And they’d be right. But it is much more difficult to kill 17 people with a knife, or a baseball bat. And that’s the point. And it is unarguable. It is also unarguable that the vast majority of attacks are carried out with guns, and the most deadly have always been with AR-15 style weapons, simply because of the ease with which multiple shots can be got off.

Some will say again that getting rid of such weapons is too hard, that illegal arms will continue to circulate amongst the criminal classes, and the argument needs to be confronted honestly. Yes, it will be hard to eliminate such weapons from the streets of America, and it will take time. As each such weapon is discovered, it must be destroyed. The population of such weapons will fall only slowly. (Although a gun amnesty will speed the process.) But people committing massacres are not career or professional criminals. They are not even gang members. They are loners, and normally not criminal in any other identifiable sense. In other words, the argument is a simple furphy.

The argument in favour of starting the process of reducing the population of such guns vastly outweighs any difficulties.

Because the question always comes back to “if not now, when?”

parkland-florida-school-shooting-05-ap-jc-180214_4x3_992

Without political leadership – without bi-partisan political leadership – America is simply doomed to seeing these scenes over and over. What is clear is that the current situation is unacceptable in a modern, free country. If anyone doubts that it is, they should visit 17 households in Broward County tonight.

Already there is evidence that tourist numbers to the USA are being negatively affected by the widespread perception of the country as riddled with gun violence.

And the psychological impact on America’s own population can hardly be imagined.

Let’s work together on what CAN be done, rather than waste any more time arguing about whether anything should be done. And before any smart-alec remarks that this is nothing to do with a writer in Australia, we would simply make three points.

  • Sometimes, a little distance is required to give perspective.
  • We have successfully tackled this problem in Australia and largely eradicated these weapons from our society.
  • We have friends in America. Many of them. And some of those friends have children.

Only when we have sought to address the core problem is it appropriate to say “Prayers and sympathy” to the victims. Because to express such sentiments, but to refuse to even begin to seriously tackle how to prevent events like today’s terrible massacre, is utter hypocrisy. Damnable hypocrisy. And it should be called out as such.

Something must be done. Starting today. That’s the bottom line.