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30 October 2014

Catholic Church catches up with Science

I has been my long-held view that Religion and the churches that peddle it, do not, as a rule, lead the development of society. What happens is that from time to time the Church takes a leap forward to catch up with society.

Take the matter of contraception; officially discouraged by the Catholic Church, we all know (and that includes the Church) that it is widely practised by Catholics. I venture to suggest that the time will come when it receives the Church's official approval.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis - who in many ways has so far been a remarkable Pope - has (according to USA Today) just made an interesting statement about Creation. Addressing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences he said "When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so; He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment."

This is not entirely new because earlier Popes have talked in similar terms. I think the current Pope's pronouncements carry more weight, however, because of his radical views on many things, and because of his popularity.

"Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve."

Pope Francis .. October 2014


It is probably because the Catholic Church has previously dabbled in a more scientific view of creation that the more rabid evangical protestants (found predominantly in the USA) denounce Catholics as not being "Proper Christians".

The Pope's view on Creation is anathema to those who like to adhere to the Disneyesque view of Genesis and indeed the rest of the Bible. In fact the Pope falls into line with other eminent thinkers such as Lionel Beck and Thomas Paine. What? Oh, alright, Thomas Paine!

So if we accept evolution, the question that now arises is, at what point along the evolutionary path did the organic beings that preceded primitive humankind acquire a Soul capable of surviving death and "ascending" into "heaven"?

I'm not going to try and answer that one becasue I wish to retain some semblance of sanity, but I'm sure there are people out there who are going to tell me the answer.

07 August 2014

Entrepeneur is a French word but ...

Last week my wife and I were in France - Rocamadour to be precise. It's a stunningly spectacular place, a mediaeval town perched half way up the side of a limestone cliff.

The thing is, though, the French can be incredibly charming and helpful, but also quite the opposite.

Although Entrepeneur is a French word, the French appear to have a shaky relationship with the concept of customer service. How do their businesses make money? I should explain that our observation of their strange business practice was confined to catering (in three instances in restaurants and cafes, and one instance on an SNCF inter-city train.)

At noon one very hot day in Rocamadour we had only a limited time for lunch, being due to join a coach trip. All we wanted was a glass of wine and a Crepe. There were several establishments prominently displaying menu boards outside, most of which included CREPES. The first one we entered advertised an air-conditioned dining room, so considering the excessive temperature outside, we were happy to dive inside. The patron wished us "Bonjour" and watched us go into the dining room. The dining room was empty. We sat there admiring the view of the gorge outside for five or ten minutes during which time we were totally ignored. The guy who had greeted us just sat behind the bar in the adjacent room. So we walked out as the man behind the bar bade us "Au Revoir"! Opportunity to take our Euros completely missed.

We then walked to another restaurant that was three quarters empty. It was now about 12.15 pm. We sat down at one of the many empty tables and a waiter took our order for a carafe of rose wine. The wine was delivered to our table promptly. At the same time a waitress arrived to take our food order. We ordered two Grand Marnier Crepes, at which point the lady explained that between Noon and 3 pm we could only order a full meal, whereupon the waiter whisked away our carafe of wine and two glasses as quickly as it had been delivered. Opportunity to take our Euros completely missed in favour of some self-imposed rule that it would be better business sense to send us on our way.

By now, time was getting short and in desperation we tried a food outlet that was selling snacks from a window. Their menu included CREPES, so we asked for two Grand Marnier Crepes. The answer was "Non". They were not cooking crepes at this time of day. Opportunity to take our Euros completely missed.

My temper was now reaching the same temperature as the midday sun, and we retreated back to our hotel for a drink of water and a cereal bar.

I mentioned this to our Tour Manager, and he remarked that whilst most of western Europe was moving towards customer-oriented service, the French appeared to marching in the opposite direction. Well, good luck with that, my Gallic friends!

My final experience of this inflexible attitude was on the train from Brive-la-Gaillarde back to Paris, when I went in search of the buffet car. I walked the full length of the train and missed it, mainly because there wasn't a buffet car as such - just a man standing in a doorway at the end of one of the carriages. Behind him on a shelf was a small coffee machine, and on the floor were some cardboard boxes of snacks. I asked him for two coffees. He handed me two stirring sticks and some packets of sugar to place in my pocket, then poured the coffee into two small polystyrene cups and placed lids on them. I had a long way to go back to our seats in a crowded train, including some bodies scattered over the floor. I spied a pile of small paper carrier bags on a shelf and asked this worthy SNCF employee for a bag. He said emphatically "Non!" I broke into my magnificent French and cried "Pourquoi?!" He then proceeded to explain (with an agreeable smile on his face it has to be said) that the bags were for food and I hadn't bought any food; moreover I had only two small cups to carry and they had lids on, so there would be no spillage! (There was).

Only in France!!

11 June 2014

Atheists are Lost for Words

Oh my God!  .. I’ve just realised that religion and language have been so intertwined over the centuries that oft-repeated phrases become problematical for those of us who have concluded that GOD (as we understand Him through the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions) does not exist.

What in God’s name are we going to do about it? Invent new phrases, or be comfortable in the knowledge that everyone uses them without actually thinking?

Jesus!! .. it’s difficult! God only knows how it’s all going to turn out. But surely, being able to use words and phrases that might cause offence to some people is my God-given right?!

Lord knows, even the ghastly 21st century manifestation, “Text-speak” (which is surely the spawn of the Devil) does not make things any easier for the atheist .. OMG !

For God’s sake help me out here. But don’t leave troll-like comments, or you can just go to Hell. I sometimes think that internet “trolls” are people who have the misfortune to live in God-forsaken towns and just feel compelled to give everybody else Hell.

Good God! .. is that the time? I must get to the end of this soon. (“Thank Heaven for that!” did I hear you cry?)

It’s even difficult for me to work out how politely take my leave of you, since the simple “goodbye” is a contraction of the 16th century (or thereabouts) God be with Ye.

So, as I sign off from God’s own country (Yorkshire) I hope you’ll remember me in your thoughts and prayers.

God bless .. and I’ll see you in my next Blog (God willing).

28 March 2014

The Great European Union Debate

EU - Deputy Prime Minister Clegg (left) v UKIP Leader Farage (right)

At last, thanks to the challenge laid down by Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg on LBC the other week for UKIP Leader Nigel Farage to enter into a public debate on whether or not the UK should stay in the EU, we can begin to discuss some of the facts. I look forward to the second debate to take place soon on BBC2.

I am an enthusiastic European, but I'll say this about the EU: it is riddled with faults, top-heavy bureaucracy, money-wasting procedures, and a set of accounts that have not been signed off by auditors for years.

UKIP's solution is to leave it. The pro-Europeans' solution is to stay in and do something about the faults.

Both solutions are fraught with difficulties.

There is a balance to be made, and pro-Europeans like myself say that the benefits of membership outweigh the dis-benefits. Perhaps that judgement is subjective, and the only way to be objective is to be presented with facts. Which is why I'm glad these debates are taking place.

The next problem, when presented with “facts”, is resisting the temptation to say that facts we don’t want to hear are either lies or fear-mongering.

Putting millions of jobs at risk can either be a fact, or fear-mongering, or both. If you don’t like the statement you can say that the leaders of businesses like Siemens, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hitachi etc. are lying when they say they are investing in Britain because we are in the EU.

Stating that 480 million people have the right to enter Britain is a fact, but since it is somewhat irrelevant, it is also fear-mongering.  If a French politician was to say, “70 million British people have the right to enter France” he would be factually correct, but what would be the point of him saying it?

Anti-Europeans ask what's so special about the The European Arrest Warrant. It is favoured by senior police officers because pre-EAW the average time to execute a successful extradition was one year; under EAWs the average time is under 50 days.

Then they say we have criminals walking the streets because of failures in deportation proceedings. Deportation failures are often caused by rulings handed down by the European Court of Human Rights. This has nothing to do with the EU, and if we left the EU we would still be bound by the ECHR until or unless we legislated our way out compliance with any of those Court rulings.

UKIP are not against immigration, but are in favour of controlled immigration. I don’t have any quarrel with that. Under the free movement of jobs and people in the EU, it is clearly not possible to control migrants from EU countries. If that causes a problem, then it should be reviewed.

Like it or not, the kind of world we live in now makes membership of a powerful group more useful than being a little man on your own.

The EU is arguably big on bureaucracy and small on Democracy. I do feel that democracy is on life-support but then in my view we never have had democracy before or after membership of the EU. Coming out of the EU is not going to make us any more democratic until or unless politicians bite the voting system bullet.

The one thing to be said about the European Elections is that they won’t be based on “first past the post”. The (predicted) big win by UKIP next month is largely thanks to the use of a system of proportional representation. Come the General Election, both Clegg and Farage will be victims of a voting system that takes little account of their true support.

The hectoring practice of the EU to get the right answer to any referendum on a treaty change is a weapon in the armoury of those who want to withdraw. The practice of calling a referendum and then calling another one until the right answer is achieved is a huge puzzle to me. Firstly, if a government is prepared to call a second one because they didn’t like the answer, then that government is at fault. But then again, how does the right answer come about? How or why do people vote one way in the first referendum, and another way in a second referendum? Which of the two is democratic? They both involved people voting.

At UK General Elections about half the people bother to vote, and in European Elections the figure is more like one third. It’s a disgrace. Voting should be a compulsory element of being a member of civilized society. Education of children is compulsory, paying our taxes is compulsory; why not voting? Ballot papers should have a “None of the above” or “Abstention” box.

By the way, I have no objection in principle to a (democratic) United States of Europe.

03 February 2014

"The Naked Communist" by W Cleon Skousen - A Review

My attention was drawn to this book by a man I know well who is concerned about Communist infiltration into British, American and European governments. He is of the opinion that the goal of the European Union is to turn Europe into a Communist Collective.

I disagree fundamentally with this view, which appears to be a symptom of extreme right-wing paranoia, as well as being in complete contradiction to the reality on the ground.

"The Naked Communist" was cited as evidence to support his view, so I bought it and read it.

Scousen's aim was to strip away the deceitful clothing that hid the true face and body of Communism, hence the title.

The book (published 56 years ago) has some merit in providing a useful summary of the history of Communism and its "founding fathers", if I may use that term. It was interesting to learn that Karl Marx never did a day's work in his life and neglected his wife and children to a disgraceful degree. He appeared to have not a single person he could call his friend, with the possible exception of his co-theorist, Friedrich Engels.

Both the book and it's author Skousen were products of their time: the "Iron Curtain" had fallen across the middle of Europe and all the people to the east of it had been enslaved by a tyrannical dictatorship purporting to be the answer to the problems of mankind. Communism was being presented to the rest of the world as the only way to a truly happy society. It was, of course, nothing of the kind, since it militated against man's natural instincts and could only be maintained by ruthless suppression of natural aspirations, the imposition of fear, and the frequent use of mass executions.

It was in reality a vehicle for the maintenance of power by the few over the many. At the end of the 2nd World War, in which it had been expedient to join forces with Russia and its satellites to destroy the evil of Hitler's Nazis, we found ourselves faced with an equally evil empire in the shape of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) presided over by one Joseph Stalin.

It is difficult to decide which man was the most monstrous - Hitler or Stalin. Neither had any moral compass and would stoop to any degree of depravity and international diplomatic deceit to get their way. Both used similar methods to maintain their hold on power.

And yet, after 1945, intellectuals and others in the "West" were quite happy to accept Communism as a genuinely desirable aspiration. Communist cells successfully established themselves within the USA, the "mothership" of Capitalism. The Communists believed that Capitalism was doomed to fail, but the process should be speeded up by a policy of disruption and discontent so that people would rise up and destroy their governments. During the 25 years following the end of World War 2 the Communist Party of Britain grew in strength, the British Labour Party was infiltrated, and Communist agitators within the Trade Union movement all but destroyed the British car industry, and wreaked havoc with many other industries.

Skousen's book correctly indicated what had already happened in this regard, correctly summarised what was already happening, but failed to foresee one or two important developments. He cannot be blamed for this because none of us has an infallible crystal ball.

What he didn't, or couldn't see, was that it was Communism itself that contained the seeds of its own destruction. The manifest failure of the major Communist countries to feed their own people without external help, the manifest failure to produce goods that people wanted, and the manifest failure to produce the proletarian utopia promised by Marx and Engels led - albeit painfully slowly - to a growing sense of unease within the major Communist leaderships and the people oppressed by them. Yugoslavia's Tito successfully distanced himself from the USSR, there were uprisings in Hungary (ruthlessly put down), and the Communist leader of Czechoslovakia, Alexendar Dubcek, attempted to install a kind of humanitarian and democratic communism in his country. Predictably at the time, he failed, and his Russian masters replaced him unceremoniously after the Russian tanks had been sent in.

Most significantly, though, was the gradual dawning of reality on the communist mothership itself, with the succession of Mikhail Gorbachev to the leadership of the Party in the USSR. But by this time it was already too late for a top-down rejection of Communism; the people began to rise up against their communist oppressors, first in Poland, then in East Germany. The movement spread. In 1989 the infamous Berlin Wall was demolished whilst the leadership and the "People's Army" stood by in bemused passive support. The rest of the "Iron Curtain" duly melted away.

It's ironic that the "proletariat" who were supposed to be bring down capitalism brought down communism instead!

I am not saying that Communism is a dead duck, but there is only one major Communist Country left in the world, and that is North Korea. I don't think many people are going to cite North Korea as an example of proletarian Utopia. It's just another ruthlessly oppressed people under the yoke of a dictator and a powerful army. Even so-called Communist China has somehow found an accommodation with a kind of free enterprise within its own country. It is "communist" mainly by virtue of it still being a single-party State. The Party is not practising full Communism, but it is all-powerful nevertheless.

Communism as a worldwide aspiration has imploded.

I believe it is important to know a little about Cleon Skousen and the things that influenced his way of thinking. Having drawn our attention to the history and the methods of Communism, and warned us of the consequences of ignoring those methods, he goes on towards the end of his book by trying to instil his own philosophies into the life of the "American Student", strongly advising that rather than submitting to the deceit of communism we should be submitting to the certainties of the Bible. He advocates the enthusiastic study of the Bible, and he implies that atheists are three quarters along the way to being Communists.

It is at this point that I fundamentally disagree with him; his advocacy of religion in general, and of the Judeo-Christian religions in particular as being the only way forward detracts from the value of the earlier parts of his book. Since he wrote that book, the world has moved on somewhat. I accept many of the creditable aspects of some religions and their followers, but I (and many others) cannot accept that atheism = communism = evil

I would ask, are the following (to name but a few) either Communists or Evil? .. Albert Einstein, Richard Dawkins, Douglas Adams, Salman Rushdie, Billy Connolly, Bill Gates, Eddie Izzard, Ernest Hemingway, Katherine Hepburn, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, John Lennon, Barry Manilow, Ian McKellen, Terry Pratchett, Daniel Radcliffe, Alan Turing .. I could go on for pages, but I'll spare the reader.

Cleon Skousen was a far-right radical Conservative and a Mormon who worked for a short while with the FBI. He was later Chief of Police in Salt Lake City for 4 years. Mayor Bracken Lee said that although Skousen was an anti-communist he "ran the police department in exactly the same manner as the Communists in Russia operate their government."

Skousen disregarded all federal regulatory agencies and argued for the abolition of everything from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to the Environmental Protection Agency. He also wanted to repeal the minimum wage, eliminate unions, nullify anti-discrimination laws, sell off public lands and national parks, end the direct election of Senators, eliminate income tax, and remove the separation between church and state.

Finally, the question .. is communism still infiltrating western society and is the goal of the European Union a Communist Collective?

Skousen sees no difference between Communism and Socialism ("except by their means of gaining power"). This is so way off the mark! Communism gains power by force, and retains power by force. Socialism gains power by majority vote and loses power by majority vote. To equate the two is sheer ignorance. In 1945 Britain elected a Socialist Government with a landslide majority. (I would say that was Britain's only Socialist Government). In 1951 that Socialist Government was dismissed by the British electorate. Subsequent successes by the British Labour Party were due to their abandoning socialism for a form of social democracy prepared to integrate with the idea of a free-market economy.

Whatever criticisms one can throw at the concept of the European Union - and there are many - the idea that it is working towards a Communist Collective is preposterous. Who could imagine that the people of Europe who for decades suffered either under the jackboot of Nazism, or the iron fist of Communism (in some cases one followed by the other) would countenance a return to something similar?

In Britain the Communist Party boasted 60,000 members after the War (still only about 0.1% of the population). It was disbanded in 1991. True, some ex-members went on to form other left-wing groups, most of which allied themselves to democracy rather than enforced one-party government. One such group is "Unlock Democracy" which is a left-leaning campaign group that works to promote participatory democracy across the political spectrum.

Communism is not the current threat to our way of life. The new threat is another -ism: militant Islamism.

If someone looks at Europe and sees Communism, then he fails to understand what Communism really is or was. Perhaps he should read Skousen's book? Oh damn! He already has!