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13 December 2012

Northern Ireland Unionists - Listen up!

For decades the rest of Britain has listened to Northern Ireland "Unionists" banging on about how much they are "British" and how important it is for them to remain "British".

Well, listen up, you guys ..

The British are renowned for their tolerance .. you are not.

The British do not go in for triumphal marches through towns with pipes & drums, wearing sashes and stupid-looking bowler hats .. you do. (By the way the British gave up wearing bowler hats 50 years ago. You still use them as some kind of sectarian uniform.)

The British do not generally care one iota about their neighbour's religion .. you do.

The British are generally relaxed about religion in general .. you are not.

The British do not erect 14ft high concrete walls to separate communities .. you do.

The British are an amalgam of ethnic and religious groups who, for most of the time, rub along together pretty well .. you are Christians who cannot even live with other Christians.

The British do not get overly worked up about The Flag .. you do.

The British do not harbour centuries old grudges .. You do.

So, it's beginning to look as though you are not so much "British" as members of a completely alien culture. Be like the rest of us, or cut yourself loose. Speaking for myself, I am bored with you. Please go away if you can't change.

16 November 2012

Democracy - Why don't we care about it?

We've just had elections for Police & Crime Commissioners (for the first time ever).

We also had three Parliamentiary Byelections at the same time.

The turn-out was between 10% and 18%. This is disgraceful. The number of people bothering to exercise their precious right to vote has been falling dramatically in recent years and it makes me angry.

It makes me angry because over the centuries people have campaigned, fought and died in order to obtain the right to be heard, and the right to elect the people who govern.

I have no sympathy for anyone who doesn't care about exercising this right and then has the gall to complain about whatever governments are doing.

It is undeniable that over the years we have developed an understandable scepticism about our politicians and governments; they can't be trusted, they don't keep their promises, they are dishonest, they are in it for themselves, and so on. But these are not reasons to turn our back on democracy; they are reasons to increase our activity in it!

What do these people who don't care really want? Do they want dictatorship?

We are all human beings with manifold flaws in our characters, and people who aspire to be politicians are no different. But it is better to have imperfect human beings whom we elect than suffer oppression under imperfect human beings with absolute control over us.

Here in the UK we could improve things by abandoning this long-held tradition of voting on Thursdays. Why the hell does that happen? What's so special about Thursdays? What's wrong with voting on Saturdays or Sundays? There's also a lot to be said for making voting a statutory obligation. After all, we are legally obliged to pay our taxes, and the old cry is "No taxation without representation". So, why not a legal obligation to vote?! And before anyone says, "Well, I don't like any of these cretins", ballot papers in a compulsory vote would have to have a box for "Abstention", "None of the Above", "Anti-Democracy" .. call it what you will.

Come on Britain, wake up!

11 October 2012

Brave Girl in Pakistan

That brave 14-year old campaigner for the education of girls has done the world a great favour. Unfortunately she had to take a bullet in the head to do it.

We must all be thankful that she survived this hideous attack by the Taliban, thanks to the efforts of the Pakistani doctors who successfully treated her.

The favour she has done the world is to remind us all, in the most graphic way possible that these people calling themselves the Taliban are ignorant and uneducated bullies with a medieval mindset and 21st century weapons. It is a lethal combination, and we must hope that the ceaseless campaigning by this young girl in recent years for the proper education of girls will result in something positive.

The signs are good.  As a consequence of this disgusting attack there have recently been massive demonstrations in favour of female education and against the Taliban. The signs are particularly hopeful because for the most part these demonstrations have been carried out by women.

Perhaps it will take armies of angry women to do what various national governments have failed to do .. destroy the Taliban for good.

We can but hope.

28 September 2012

God and Religion

Who, or what, am I?

I  pray to a (probably) non-existent God .. sometimes .. when troubled.
Or do I?

Or is He?
Why do I do this?

It is to do with childhood conditioning, which is why I spent most of my life as a ‘Christian’ for no other reason than my parents had me baptised as a Christian, and when I was old enough to comprehend speech, told me I was a Christian.
I was made to go to Sunday School and to Church Services, and I was taught that God created the world in six days, was everywhere, knew my every thought. I learned that I should say prayers; indeed I didn’t even have to think about what to say, because several hundred years ago someone else had decided what I should be saying and had written it all down in the Book of Common Prayer.

Apparently mankind started with ‘Adam and Eve’ in the ‘Garden of Eden’. They produced a couple of sons, one of which killed the other and also found himself a wife, though no one ever explained how she had materialised!
I learned that I was a ‘sinner’, and that ‘Jesus died for my sins’ (whatever that means), even though this was nearly two thousand years before I existed. I learned that there was somewhere called ‘heaven’ and somewhere else called ‘hell’. ‘Hell’ was where I was going to burn for eternity if I did wrong; and it seemed to me, from my mother’s endless criticism, I was doing wrong for quite a lot of the time!

This is powerful stuff for a child, because all a child knows when he has entered the human amalgam is what he is told by grown-ups; and stuff that is instilled in the first few years tends to become a permanent fixture in our brains, and difficult to break away from even with the help of rational thought and education. (“Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man” – Francis Xavier.)

Why are we religious?

So, the reason most Christians are Christians are because they were raised that way from Day One in their lives. And it is for that same reason that most Muslims are Muslims, most Hindus are Hindus, Sikhs are Sikhs, Buddhists are Buddhists, and – dare I say – Atheists are Atheists.
This nonsense is compounded by the various sub-sects of each religion. Are you a Protestant Christian or a Catholic Christian? If you are Protestant, are you an Evangelical or Baptist or Presbyterian, or Methodist, or Anglican, or Quaker, or Plymouth Brethren? (Or are you someone who throws money at some Television Evangelist who has hypnotized you into supporting his personal extravagant lifestyle?!) Are you a Sunni Muslim or a Shia Muslim or Ahmadi, or Sufi or Wahabbi? Are you a Jew or a non-Jew, a Hassidic Jew or a progressive Jew? All of them believe they are possessors of God’s Truth. Each is right, the others are wrong. But they can’t all be right. It is a kind of mental slavery, and inside which branch of mental slavery you are shackled is determined by accident of birth. How stupid is that?

It’s taken me over seventy years to start breaking the chains, by re-examining the beliefs by which I was raised, and by reading books by respected scientists and philosophers with better brains than mine, such as (to name but a few) The God Delusion by Professor Richard Dawkins, God is not Great by the late Christopher Hitchens, Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris, and The Language of God by Francis S Collins (this last one arguing on the side of God’s existence, by an eminent scientist involved in the Human Genome Project). They persuaded me to re-examine my battered Bible with an enquiring mind rather than a passive one.

I once wrote a piece about my daughter when she was a little girl in hospital after an appendix-removal operation. She was in terrible pain and begging for relief. She was denied more drugs because the doctor had said she had had the required dose. I went outside and begged God to do something. I went back inside and found her relaxed. The doctor had made a mistake and had corrected it. To me, that was a prayer answered and it sustained my Faith for a considerable period.

But of course that might anyway have happened with or without my appeal to a supernatural being. In all the years before that incident, and in all the years since, there has been no other obvious response to any of my many prayers. I am not a statistician, but I would think that within a 74-year life span there must be a chance that at least one of my prayers would actually coincide with something that was going to happen anyway. In spite of my prayers, and those of millions of others, sick people continued to get sicker and die; famines, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, wars, torture, and religious wars continued (and continue) unabated. Epidemics of killer diseases continued (and continue) – though less so with advances in medical science.

A few years after my daughter was the subject of that earnest prayer, she was killed in a car crash.

The thing about prayer is this: if what you pray for comes about, then God has answered your prayer. If what you pray for doesn’t come about, then it’s “all part of God’s plan” – live with it!

The Word of God

Whether or not God, or a supernatural Creator of the universe, exists is a matter for which my mind remains open, but on the matter of accepting the Bible or the Koran as ‘holy’ books, or ‘the Word of God’, or template for a worthy life, my mind is now pretty much made up: they are not the Word of God. They are the Word of Man. They are an amalgam of history, fiction, poetry, indoctrination, superstition, primitive fear, and power-play – much of it written hundreds of years after the events described. Moreover they have been translated so many times (including various forms of English) that one cannot be certain of the true meaning of the original texts as laid down thousands of years ago by members of primitive and superstitious societies.
For the most part over the centuries organized religion has been a force for evil rather than good. It has been the foundation on which corrupt power has been built, the rationale behind the exploitation and subjugation of women, the genital mutilation of both girls and boys, the excuse for the adoption and maintenance of slavery, and the inspiration for torture and killing on a gargantuan scale.

Having started to re-read the Bible (after many years of ignoring it) I now find most of it to be utterly incredible. It is full of contradictions, hate, vengefulness, and orders by ‘God’ to kill thousands of innocent men, women and children (whatever happened to “Thou shalt not kill”?) Thousands are condemned for the sins of one. We cherry-pick the bits that are suitable to be read in church services. The accounts of the life and death of Jesus do not match up. I am not prepared to accept that any woman can – or did – give birth to a child without sexual intercourse; and even some prominent churchmen have difficulty with this, not to mention the little business of life after death. (And by the way, many other religions refer to weird and impossible methods of birth, often using virgins, for the existence of their “gods”.) There is serious doubt about the use of the word “virgin” instead of, perhaps, a “young maiden”.

The Bible is, to me, a collection of histories and edicts written by priests and/or leaders of primitive tribes of people in order to exercise power. This seems to have been the purpose of religion(s) throughout the centuries. As society develops more knowledge, and accumulates more scientifically provable facts, and makes changes to what is and what is not acceptable to society, it seems that religious leaders are in perpetual disagreement with scientific discoveries and society’s changes until they eventually have to “catch up” and make adjustments to their theological arguments purely in order to make them more acceptable to us as religious leaders. No doubt one day the Catholic Church will subject itself to whatever contortions it finds necessary to endorse the use of condoms, not only as a means of birth control, but as a means of preventing the spread of killer diseases. But by then, religion’s game of catch-up will be too little too late (again).
There is more hate, conflict, war, and unspeakable terror committed around the world by people of Faith than by people of No Faith. Christians and Muslims not only fight each other, but Christians fight Christians and Moslems fight Moslems because they are not believing the “right” things!

The history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is awash with the blood of innocent men, women and children; moreover it continues to this day. In spite of (or I wonder if that should be because of) our education the superstition, prejudice, fear, and willingness to kill others in pursuit of our beliefs appears as strong as ever.

The stuff we are taught in church

Although passages from the Old Testament are read out as part of regular Christian church services, they are for the most part passages that have been cherry-picked for acceptable consumption. Even when the passive congregation receives the message, they are hearing it rather than listening to it and analyzing it, for to do so is too confusing and uncomfortable. It is just an accepted routine.

For example, how useful would it be for us to receive the following pieces of wisdom from Chapter 8 of Leviticus ..

22 And he presented the other ram, the ram of consecration: and Aaron and his sons laid their hands upon the head of the ram.

23 And he slew it; and Moses took of the blood thereof, and put it upon the tip of Aaron’s right ear, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot.

24 And he brought Aaron’s sons; and Moses put of the blood upon the tip of their right ear, and upon the thumb of their right hand, and upon the great toe of their right foot: and Moses sprinkled the blood upon the altar round about.

25 And he took the fat, and the fat tail, and all the fat that was upon the inwards, and the caul of the liver, and the two kidneys, and their fat, and the right thigh:
26 And out of the basket of unleavened bread, that was before Jehovah, he took one unleavened cake, and one cake of oiled bread, and one wafer, and placed them on the fat, and upon the right thigh:

27 And he put the whole upon the hands of Aaron, and upon the hands of his sons, and waved them for a wave-offering before Jehovah.

Here endeth the Lesson.

Fantastic. Laughable. There are pages and pages of this kind of stuff.

By Chapter 16 we are still labouring under instructions about killing, dismembering and burning animals for the glory of God, to atone for sin, as a peace offering, as thanksgiving. Then there are instructions that deformed people, i.e., blind people, people with broken hands or feet, flat-nosed, (!) etc., shall not be deemed fit to make offerings to Jehovah. (I thought God made man in His own image!)

From Chapter 21 .. daughters of priests who act like harlots shall be killed, specifically, burnt with fire.

As I said before, we cherry-pick the bits that are suitable to be read in church services.

I have been looking through sections of the Bible to find examples of God’s morality. It is a tedious business and so I was very grateful for stumbling across a piece of work by Daniel C Dennett (included within Christopher Hitchens’ book, The Portable Atheist).  Dennett is the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, University Professor, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies (with Ray Jackendoff) at Tufts University (near Boston, Massachesetts).

I found that Daniel Dennett had done some of the trawling for me ..

Consider first God’s moral character, as revealed in the Bible. He routinely punishes people for the sins of others. He punishes all mothers by condemning them to painful childbirth, for Eve’s sin. He punishes all human beings by condemning them to labor, for Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:16-18). He regrets His creation, and in a fit of pique, commits genocide and ecocide by flooding the earth (Gen. 6:7). He hardens Pharaoh’s heart against freeing the Israelites (Ex. 7:3), so as to provide the occasion for visiting plagues upon the Egyptians, who, as helpless subjects of a tyrant, had no part in Pharaoh’s decision. (So much for respecting free will, the standard justification for the existence of evil in the world.)

He kills all the firstborn sons, even of slave girls who had no part in oppressing the Israelites (Ex. 11:5). He punishes the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great great-grandchildren of those who worship any other god (Ex. 20:3-5). He sets a plague upon the Israelites, killing twenty-four thousand, because some of them had sex with the Baal-worshiping Midianites (Num. 25:1-9). He lays a three-year famine on David’s people for Saul’s slaughter of the Gibeonites (2 Sam. 21:1). He orders David to take a census of his men, and then sends a plague on Israel, killing seventy thousand for David’s sin in taking the census incorrectly (2 Sam. 24:10-15). He sends two bears out of the woods to tear forty-two children to pieces, because they called the prophet Elisha a bald head (2 Kings 2:23-24). He condemns the Samarians, telling them that their children will be “dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open” (Hosea 13:16). This is but a sample of the evils celebrated in the Bible.

Now, how much of this stuff is regularly read in churches these days as our “Lesson” for the day?

And how much of it would you regard as morally defensible?

And on the subject of The Flood, just in passing, how did Noah physically manage to get together all those animals .. especially, for example, kangaroos (existing on an entirely different continent)? And how did he prevent them all from killing each other? And how did he deal with the waste disposal problem?


I have no problem with evolution. The truth of the evolved and evolving state of our planet and its inhabitants is there for all to see. But who or what set the necessary seeds for evolution?

 “The origins of evolution” are, to me, the true “Creation”. Therefore I am open to the argument that a higher deity may be behind all this, and I am open to the concept of a spiritual relationship with that Deity, but He is not the God of the Bible, or of the Koran.


I do not deny some of the good aspects of religion, or Christianity in particular: the creation of beautiful buildings, inspiring music, great literature, and charitable works, but I fear they are outweighed by the negatives. In spite of thousands of years of devotion to all sorts of gods (including the “God” of which we now speak) it seems they (or He/She/It) have been indifferent to the millennia of suffering, deprivation, fear, war, torture, tyranny, earthquakes, tsunamis, poverty, genocide, and the interminable prayers offered up. And why did this “Creation” by an omnipotent and omniscient Deity include such things as pathogenic bacteria, killer viruses, and cancers? And why were so many of his creatures destined to be born deformed, or born dead .. take note, “Pro-Lifers”, God also practices abortion on a daily basis.

The enthusiastic adherents of religion suppose that without religion there is no morality. Society falls apart. No, it doesn’t! All civilized societies work within a system of laws designed to maintain law, order and common decency between people, in order to survive. A society that is prepared to condone wanton cruelty, unbridled selfishness, theft, violence, or murder, cannot survive.

Morality is hard-wired into most of us. We know what is right and what is wrong. We know what is good and what is evil. This has nothing to do with religion.
“Ah, but” .. says the religionist, “There is much in the Bible that tells us how to behave well towards one another, especially in the New Testament.”

One cannot argue with this, and I don’t try to .. I acknowledge it. But we have already seen that there is much in the Bible also that we find so morally reprehensible that we forget, ignore, or rapidly pass over those bits. Cherry picking again. The conclusion must be, therefore, that far from shaping our morality, the ‘good’ bits we pick out of the Bible are reflecting our own morality.

Religion itself is no guarantee of a well-behaved society. The United States of America is probably one of the most pious nation in the “Christian” world. Hartford Institute estimates there are roughly 350,000 religious congregations in the United States, and a disturbingly high proportion of American Christians believe in the literal truth of the “Creation Story”. And yet the USA has roughly four times the murder rate than Great Britain which is one of the least religious countries. Not only is the USA a religious country, it also practices Capital Punishment.

Dangers of religious fanaticism

I believe the biggest threat to our well-being comes from politicians who declare themselves to be driven by God. If these people believe half the clap-trap found in the Bible or the Koran as the literal truth and Word of God, then they are going to cause us nothing but trouble. When Tony Blair was the UK Prime Minister, his press aide once famously declared, “We don’t do God”. Interestingly, Blair later converted to Catholicism once safely out of office. He is now making a personal fortune. (The words “camel” and “eye of a needle” come to mind.)

If the President of the USA failed to end a public speech with “God bless America” he would be crucified (if you’ll excuse the expression). If a British Prime Minister ended a public speech with “God bless Great Britain”, half his audience would be baffled, and the other half would be rolling in the aisles.

In the 2012 American Presidential election campaign one of the contenders is a professed Christian accused by some of his opponents of being a Muslim, and the other is a very rich member of a church running an ancestral database so that dead people can be posthumously baptized into their church. In New York a Sikh who wore a turban in obedience to his religion was assassinated by an idiot who assumed he was an Islamic terrorist because he wore that turban.

In 2002 a group of Islamist fanatics flew airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the cause of their religion, killing thousands of innocent people (including many of their own Faith). They considered themselves to be martyrs and due to be rewarded by being transported to some great brothel in the sky where they could enjoy the pleasures of the flesh that they so earnestly denied themselves and others whilst on this earth.

A few years later a similar group of religious lunatics blew up London Underground trains and a bus, killing or maiming hundreds.

The problem with people “driven by God” is that if they reach a powerful position and have access to weapons of mass destruction they may find ways and means of hastening their journey to the prophesized “end time”, “apocalypse”, “rapture” – call it what you will – taking us all with them in their crazed belief that believers will be “saved” and non-believers (including those who have never had the chance to even consider belief, for example, babies) will be cast into the fiery cauldron of “Hell” for all eternity.

As I write this I am reading reports from Afghanistan that a group of Taliban came across some people dancing to music and summarily executed them. God’s work has been done again.

It’s difficult to believe that such people have been in receipt of any worthwhile education, and indeed some haven’t, which is part of the problem. There are young children in parts of the Islamic world forced to commit large parts, or all of, the Koran to memory. This process vastly reduces those children’s capacity to think and reason for themselves. Analysis of what they read is out of the question, since it is indisputably the Word of God handed down to Mohammed about 1,300 years ago. It is a dogmatic religion build on shaky foundations lacking in historical evidence. Some will grow up to become “God’s bombs” in pursuit of “Paradise”.

Christianity has also frequently, and relatively recently, been perverted to suit the egotistical, testosterone-charged desires of maniacs like David Koresh and his Branch Davidians.

How do I relate to “believers”?

If I have, somewhat late in life, come to the view that Religion is not only hogwash but dangerous, then I am faced with a personal dilemma regarding all those people with whom I have a sincere and loving relationship who are themselves sincere believers in God, virgin birth, resurrection, and the Bible as the living truth.

But, on second thoughts, there is no dilemma. The only way I am going to be in trouble is by trying to instill into my friends a pressing need for them to come round to my way of thinking. But that is exactly what is wrong with so many religious sects. They take it upon themselves to come knocking on my door with the express view of challenging my logical thought processes, and I take exception to their view that I have some kind of duty to think as they do.

So, the last thing I am going to do is to aggressively chip away at my friends’ core beliefs. Needless to say I consider my friends to be good people, otherwise they would not be my friends, and I have absolutely no desire to “convert” them. I am not so blind that I cannot see they are comforted in their beliefs. (It might well be that they will revise their view about me. I hope not, but there’s little I can do about it.)

Atheists, Humanists, Agnostics, do not go to war with other people or other countries or indulge in torture in order to enforce their way of thinking.

Looking at the remarkable species that is the human race, with its amazing achievements, and looking at (what appears to be, so far) this unique planet in an unfathomable universe, I am even prepared to concede the possibility of a “divine” power beyond our understanding being responsible for it all. But it won’t be the “God” of the Bible or the Koran. It is even possible that I might have some kind of spiritual potential connection with that power, in which case I certainly do not need men (mostly), in ridiculous fancy dress performing staggeringly boring ceremonies and rituals to intercede on my behalf.

So, all I can ask of my believing friends is that they understand and accept me as I understand and accept them.

I made my own choice to read books that persuaded me to re-examine the “Holy scriptures” in a different light. I do not wish to insist that others read them, because, in all honesty, the experience is initially uncomfortable – even scary - for the reasons outlined right at the start of this essay. We are naturally inclined to avoid reading stuff that invades our comfort zones.

I do not fear death, though I admit to be being a bit queasy about the means of getting there.

©Lionel Beck 2012

12 July 2012

A Cock-up of Olympic Proportions

The Government announced today that the private security company "G4S" had failed to recruit sufficient staff to meet their obligations towards the provision of effective security at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Apparently they did not even start recruiting until January of this year. What a shambles.

Now the Government is proposing to fill the security gap by sending in the Army to the tune of 3,500 soldiers.

What was it the Conservative Party has been ramming down our throats for several decades now? Oh yes, I remember .. the only way to get things done properly and efficiently is to have them done by private enterprise.

The hackneyed argument has always been, Private Enterprise good, State Control bad. What we have seen in recent years is evidence that Private Enterprise can be both good or bad, and State Control can also be both good or bad. The banking fiascos of recent years knocks further nails into the coffin of the "Private Enterprise is best" philosophy.

05 May 2012

UK Local Elections May 2012

Well, it would seem that David Cameron's Conservatives and Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats (partners in Coalition Government) received a good drubbing in these elections, losing many hundreds of Council seats and losing control of several major cities.

Ed Milliband's Labour Party made an impressive showing, picking up hundreds of Council seats and gaining control of the cities the other two Parties were busy losing.

Bucking the trend, Conservative Boris Johnson just managed to get re-elected as London's Mayor with "Red Ken" Livingstone snapping at his heels.

As usual we have been regaled with all the usual stories by the Party "spin doctors", and for all they tell us that the Labour Party has regained the trust of the British Electorate, this, and all the other stuff peddled by the winning and losing Parties means not one row of beans, for the most shocking number to come out of all this is that only 32% of the electorate bothered to vote. So when the political parties are trotting out their analysis of whatever votes they managed to pick up, they are indeed just talking about a percentage of a small percentage of the electorate.

You need a massive imagination or mental excursion into fantasy land to pretend that these elections tell you anything much about what the British people are feeling about each Party - except that most of them just don't give a damn! That's what it tells us.

Our attitude to democracy is a national disgrace. It is appalling that nearly 70% of the country is content to let a small proportion of its fellow citizens to decide how we are governed.

17 April 2012

Paris Notes

We were in Paris for a few days last week with our 9-year old grandson; (York to London, then Eurostar from St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord.)

I'd like to thank the weather forecasters for getting their forecast spectacularly wrong. Instead of the promised wind, rain, and thunderstorms, we enjoyed mainly calm and dry days with sunny periods.

The first evening was a bit wet and windy, which accounts for the doubtful quality of this photograph. I should call it "From one tower to another" as I took the picture from the observation deck of the Montparnasse Tower which is a modern skyscraper building set above a shopping mall off the Boulevard Montparnasse (6th Arrondissement). It has 56 floors, allegedly the fastest elevator in Europe, with a restaurant and observation deck at the top.

Two views of Montparnasse Tower
Two Views of Montparnasse Tower

We couldn't get up the Eiffel Tower because three out of the four lifts were closed for maintenance, causing queues of two hours or more. The Montparnasse Tower made a pretty spectacular substitution!

We only had a couple of full days, so not a lot of time to see much, but we had bought Paris Visite passes which included "beat-the-queues" entry to Le Louvre and a couple of other museums, and also tickets for the Metro system. The Metro tickets proved to be invaluable, for I consider this system to be the only way to get around Paris. If you use buses you are in traffic jams; if you use taxis you are in traffic jams. Of course, thousands of other people know this also, so the Metro trains - it has to be said - are very crowded. But on the other hand, they are frequent and fast, so you don't have to suffer for too long. Line 1 is worth trying just for the experience of riding on very new and classy driver-less trains! The connecting corridors between coaches are open so you can walk through the entire train, and at each end you have a clear view of where you are going (or where you have been). The system is easy to use: just ascertain from the Metro Map where you want to go, note both the Line Number and the name of the terminus at each end of the line (so you catch the train going in the right direction!) There are automatic ticket barriers, and once you are through these you are free to walk the relevant passageways to whichever line you want, and to switch from one line to another at interconnecting stations.

Our hotel was "Le Littre" in Rue Littre just off Rue de Rennes just north of the junction with Boulevard du Montparnasse.
This is a well-appointed hotel, with comfortable rooms and helpful and friendly staff. The English are lazy linguists so another reason I would recommend it is the fact that the staff are multi-lingual.

Typically for French hotels, provision of meals is limited to breakfast, but this is taken in a large and bright dining room, with a good selection of fresh fruit, fruit juices, cereals, cheese, cold meats, and hot food consisting of scrambled eggs, bacon and sausages. For other meals of the day there are more cafes, brasseries, restaurants, bistros, etc. in Paris than you can shake a stick at.

If you have young children who want to look at toys, then go to the Passage des Princes just off Boulevard Italien (nearest Metro Richelieu Druot Lines 8 and 9). This is a small shopping arcade given over entirely to toy-shops. Alternatively go to the Galleries Lafayette department store on Boulevard Haussmann (a short walk from the junction of Boulevard Italien and Boulevard Haussmann). Go the 5th floor of this extraordinary building for toys.

Of course, everyone goes to the Musee du Louvre and you could spend an entire week in there, but like many people we only had a few hours to spare, so joined the inevitable crowd heading to Salle No.6 to view the Mona Lisa. Well, you have to do it, don't you? But then there's all that other stuff to look at as well. We managed to have a walk around the Roman, Greek and Egyptian antiquities before having lunch in a nearby cafe and on to the next destination.

Eiffel Tower viewed from the river Seine
Eiffel Tower viewed from a river Seine cruise boat
Although we couldn't get up the Eiffel Tower it was worthwhile just visiting it at night to see it lit up in all its glory (use Metro Line 6, Bir-Hakeim station). On every hour it becomes festooned with flashing white lights from top to bottom. This is a truly amazing structure (the biggest Meccano set I've ever seen!) and it's re-painted every 7 years by 25 painters climbing all over the structure using about 60 tons of brown paint (applied by brush, would you believe?!) over a period of 18 months.

No trip to Paris would be complete without a cruise on the river Seine. If you are sloshing about in lots of money then you can get an evening dinner cruise, but otherwise there are frequent hour-long cruises (with multi-lingual commentaries) run by a number of operators.

We had pre-purchased tickets on-line with Bateaux-Mouches. These boats operate from a jetty just upstream of Pont de l'Alma. (Metro Alma Marceau Line 9). Our on-line purchase actually just produced an email with an invoice number on it. On arrival at the Bateaux-Mouches ticket office you just go to a machine, punch in the number and out come your tickets.
Bateaux-Mouches Departures

On board

Approaching Ile de Cite
Our grandson enjoyed his first trip to France and he was sorry to be leaving Paris. We returned to London with good memories.

A quick note about the Parisiens:
They are popularly believed to be rude and arrogant. We did not experience this. All the people we dealt with were polite, helpful, and in many cases happy to have a go at speaking English if we couldn't make ourselves understood in French. I believe that if you treat people with politeness and respect, then that is what you get back - where ever you happen to be. My theory, for it's worth, is that if you go somewhere expecting hostility then you tend to transmit that expectation and engender a reciprocal response.

Here's another thing .. for the most part, both women and men were smartly dressed (even casually) and evidence of obesity was conspicuous by its absence (in spite of all those wonderful patisseries, boulangeries, cafes and restaurants .. and McDonalds!) It was - in short - a "Slob-free Zone".

07 March 2012

I Despair of the Human Race

I am going through one my periods of despair over the kind of world in which my grandson has to grow up.

Although we are now technologically advanced beyond the wildest dreams of our forefathers we appear to have learned  nothing in the matter of how to behave as human beings. We have 21st century methods of communications, information handling, and truly amazing ways of killing each other, driven by a stone age sense of morality.

Was there ever an "age of enlightenment"? How enlightened are we?

Why are some religious basket cases still finding a rationale for killing innocent people?

Why are some religious fruit and nut cases still refusing to accept scientific evidence as to the age of the planet on which we live?

Why does Israel think it has a God-given right to take other people's lands and settle on them? Why does Iran think it has a God-given right to wipe Israel off the face of the earth? Which of these countries is morally right?

When Adolph Hitler and his vile regime were finally obliterated we hoped that would be the end of such tyrants, but they have continued to spring up all over the place, the latest being President Assad of Syria. And when the world (through the UN) try to do something about it, they are thwarted by the wishes of China and Russia looking after their own interest.

Why are some young people in Britain (and elsewhere) devoid of any kind of conscience and are happy to indulge in drive-by shootings, or random stabbings of others because they don't like their colour? I cannot forget the image from the CCTV footage of the young man caught up in the Tottenham riots last summer, being injured and then apparently helped by a group of other young men, whilst they simultaneously and systematically removed the contents of the injured man's back pack.

Taxi driver Raoul Moat went on a wild shooting spree killing and injuring people in his locality. At one point he went up to a police car parked on the roadside and shot the officer in the head, blinding him. After a period of heroic efforts to come to terms with a new life without sight, the policeman recently ended his own life. When this news item appeared as an online news item, some disgusting idiot took it into his head to post a comment that it served him right for being a member of the Police chasing Raoul Moat.

Politicians lie through their teeth to get elected; criminals use the internet to extract money out of gullible people; paedophiles groom young people for their sick sexual fantasies; some of them are priests! American presidential candidates slag each other off in eye-wateringly expensive ad campaigns, then finish off their pathetic speeches with "God bless America". What do these people know of God?

And so I fear for my grandson's future. But then I look back to when I was his age and remember the bleak outlook and ever-present fear brought about by the threat of World War 3 and the obliteration of civilisation as we knew it by hydrogen bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles. There was probably as much crime around then as there is now; it's just that nowadays we know more about it. We never used to have a "24-7" news service, nor did we have the Internet. I survived the fear; I survived the disillusionment.

It may be, God willing, that my grandson will also survive and be able to live a decent life.

I think it's time I went out into the garden to look at the spring daffodils and crocuses. Well .. I would .. If only the neighbourhood's dogs would stop barking! (Dog owners without a conscience.)

23 January 2012

The US Presidential Race

The U.S. Republican Party's attempts to find a candidate to challenge Barak Obama in November is nothing if not entertaining.

It's a shame that American politics is dictated so much by how much wealth you have and/or how much extra cash you can raise, apparently without limit, but that democratic deficit is somewhat offset by the sheer entertainment value of the shenanigans these guys get up to in order to get elected.

They indulge in negative campaigning on radio and television to an extent that British politicians can only dream of. Newt Gingrich (what kind of a name is that?! Nearly as weird as Barak Obama) put out an advert the other week designed to punch out his main rival, Mitt Romney. Added to Romney's many sins, including the fact that he "loves firing people" was the fact that "he speaks French"! I'm struggling to find that a reason for disqualifying the man.

Of course all American politicians have to be openly followers of God. The trouble is, which God? The Evangelicals' God, the Catholics' God, the Baptist's God, the Presbyterians' God, the Mormons' God? Perhaps not the Mormons' God (could be Mitt Romney's undoing), and certainly not the Muslims' God. If you don't like (the avowed Christian) Barak Obama one of the popular insults is to call him a Muslim. This is all very perplexing to us in the UK because our politicians "don't do God", nor would we expect them to.

The election of an openly atheist American to the presidency is about as likely as Greece paying off its debts


The front runners for the Republican nomination now appear to be Mitt Romney the Mormon, or Newt Gingrich the "open marriage" advocate. There must be a touch of the Mormon in Gingrich, having had several wives, though to be fair in his case, not all at the same time. But Romney is a rare Republican in having once supported the idea of a health care programme; this might have something to do with God telling Joseph Smith to keep on taking the tablets.

If I were a betting man I'd put money on Barak Obama still being President after November.