Friday 13th

We survived Friday 13th

Now I am not a particularly superstitious person, but even I take extra care on Friday 13th. Well, who doesn’t? But other than that I don’t take much notice of the usual signs and portents that seem to send so many other people into paroxysms of fear.

It is all nonsense after all. The very idea that simply by smashing a mirror or walking under a ladder you are opening yourself up to any more bad luck than you would face anyway is absurd. I have deliberately walked under many a ladder in my time, and nothing has ever happened as a result. I haven’t even been the victim of the most obvious piece of bad luck, having something fall on me as I passed beneath.

But the coming of Friday 13th is something different. With enough people believing in the worst, it is inevitable that eventually, the worst will happen. So I tend to take more care than usual. But as the days of the calendar are arbitrary and not linked in any way to anything natural, the whole idea that this particular day is somehow ill-fated is particularly absurd.

But there are some very different view of superstition. Some of the worst people for taking superstitions seriously are actors. There are so many things you can’t do or say backstage at the theatre it’s a wonder they manage to do anything at all. Never say good luck, never mention Macbeth (it is always referred to as the Scotish play), and never whistle are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Almost every actor seems to have their own little rituals that they must go through before, during or after each performance.

Another thing I have noticed is that the people who avoid black cats and cracks in the pavement are generally the same people who fall for tales of hauntings and visiting spirits. And once again, theatrical types fall into this trap as well. So many theatres claim to be haunted, but it is only those who work there that seem to believe it all. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good ghost story or horror film, but that is all they are, stories. It isn’t real.

So what exactly is a superstition? I think it is best defined as a belief that by some form of magic or other ethereal power, simple actions or objects can influence events around us. Basically, it stems from ignorance and a desire to apportion blame when things go wrong. It is not too dissimilar from the way people pointed fingers at “witches” in the Middle Ages or God. Rather than accept that we ourselves may at fault for something that has happened, we naturally look around us for someone, or something else, to take the blame. It is a lack of understanding and a willingness to welcome the easy answer that leads many people to accept a belief that something else is guiding or influencing our actions.

Aside from the obvious absurdity of it all, I have often wondered where some of these ideas come from. I mean, why should putting shoes on a table, or opening up an umbrella inside be linked in any way to misfortune or disaster? Aside from the obvious that is. I mean, anyone putting up an umbrella in a house is inviting trouble by their very proximity to light fittings, ornaments and other people. It stands to reason. Many old wives tales and myths have some basis in fact. Even some religious rites can be traced back to practical considerations of a more ignorant time, but superstitions are a little different. I suppose that in some cases they are born out of a form of reality. You make a change in your routine and something bad happens, there is a natural inclination to see the change as the cause, concluding that it was the deviation from previous acts that are to blame.

To me, superstition and religion and inexorably intertwined. I can see very little difference between them as they are both built on the premise of a belief in things we cannot see or explain, and a desire to pass responsibility for our actions on to someone else.

Whilst I have no time myself for superstition or religion, I do have sympathy for those that do. People can become obsessed with their belief in them and it can make their lives unnecessarily difficult. But however irrational their fears or ignorant their beliefs, when they are sincerely held they need to be handled with care and understanding. I have never mocked or ridiculed anyone for the beliefs. I may question them, but I would never dream of trying to undermine anyone’s faith, at least not to their face.

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And in the red corner…

This week has seen further posturing by those two pillars of international diplomacy, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. They are beginning to look like two schoolboys arguing over who can urinate the highest up the school yard wall. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t clever, and it’s a challenge neither really wants to take up, just in case they lose.

Which begs the question, who has the most to lose by dragging us into another conflict in Korea? In the red corner, you have the world’s most secretive and militarised nation, under the dictatorial rule of a mad man prepared to do anything to aggrandise himself and his dynastic line. In the blue corner, you have North Korea.

Kim Jong-un’s posturing and open defiance of every UN resolution and against the expressed advice of his closest allies are playing into the hands of Donald Trump. Mr Trump, in turn, continues to use social media and inflammatory rhetoric that we can only assume he knows will do anything but calm the situation. I get the feeling that behind the scenes there are hundreds of diplomatic staff rushing about like mad things trying to keep everything under control. Now that must be a hair-raising job, being a liaison between North Korea and the US.

What is worrying is the North Korean decision to fire rockets over Japan. What do they hope to gain by such an action? They can’t believe that such a “show of strength” would prevent Japan from getting involved in any way. As far as I can see, far from it. Having recently changed their law to allow her forces to be used overseas, Japan is another potential enemy for the isolated state which already has far too many.

Even China is not happy with their recent rocket launches. They recognise the threat that these actions pose. It is in everyone’s best interests to keep the peace in this volatile region, but with the likes of Trump and Jong-un threatening the ultimate pissing contest, it is hard to see how conflict can be avoided.

Of course this week Donald Trump has been somewhat distracted by the devastating effects of Tropical Storm Harvey as it ripped through the southern states. Whilst these storms are nothing new – they happen every year – the growing ferocity of the weather over the past few years has to be of concern to everyone. But, with a President that openly denies that climate change is real, let alone a threat, residents and businesses of America’s vulnerable southern states are going to have to look elsewhere for help. Donald Trump’s determination to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and his muddled and hardly encouraging response to questions about climate change is probably a greater threat to the future stability of his nation than his posturing over North Korea.

Of course, we have plenty of our own politicians in denial about climate change. I am sure it is no coincidence that the majority of them are rich and powerful because of climate damaging industries, and whose incomes depend on the status quo. Short term gain over long term benefits is very much the mind set of a certain type of person. We all know that such short-termism has no place in global politics, but unfortunately, that is the way it is. It is just a shame that the current “leader of the free world” is probably the most politically myopic of the lot.

Maybe, rattling Kim Jong-un’s cage is Trump’s way of distracting the media and his opponents from the mess he is making in other areas. He does seem to have a knack for antagonising other world leaders. I suppose we all need a hobby…

 

It’s all in the eyes of the beholder

P1030022

Now, I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking “Why on Earth has that Wally posted a photograph of two strangers staring into a shop window.”

Go on, admit it. You were weren’t you?

I mean, anyone who has flicked through these pages before will have come to expect something critical, either of politicians in general or Donald Trump in particular. I know, I do like to aim for the easy targets, but why not. That’s what they are there for.

No, tonight I was inspired, not by any particular event, but by a random search through my recent photographs. The picture above was taken in the early evening as my wife and I strolled through the wonderful streets of York. At this particular point in the day I was just taking random shots of the buildings in the fading light. But when I got back to the hotel and perused my snap shots of this really beautiful city, this particular image just seemed to leap of the screen, beat me about the head a bit, and scream “post me” down my ear. Which of course I did.

That was back in April. Tonight I went back and looked through them again, for no particular reason other than to remind myself of the photographs I have taken so far this year. Which reminds me, I really do need to post some new images to Flickr.

Anyway, back to these two shoppers.

As I said, when I originally took the photograph it was intended as just a snapshot of the buildings, but instead I had inadvertently captured a moment.

The first thing that attracted me to this picture were the colours. The illumination from the shop lights up the young woman’s face, giving an almost fiery glow to her hair. The eyes are drawn to the window itself, trying to make out what it is that has caught this couple’s attention. Maybe it’s jewellery. Maybe they are looking for rings! Or an ornament as a memento of their visit. Or maybe it is a gift for a friend or relative.

Of course, we will never know what is going through their minds, or what they are discussing as they admire whatever it is they have spotted in the window. But do we really need to know?

Each of our lives is made up of fleeting moments. Some are good. Some are bad, but most are transitory and inconsequential. But whatever they are, each moment in unique. It will never happen again. It has gone. At least with photography you can capture those moments. The special ones, or the momentous ones. Even the everyday boring ones. Each picture represents a moment in our lives that we can never experience again, so each one is special in its own unique way.

Pictures like this one offer an opportunity not just to remember the moment itself, but also to create a new one, a new moment that can be whatever we want it to be. We all see something different when we look at pictures, whether that’s a photograph a drawing or a painting. The image in front of us tells each of us a different story. I am sure that some people will look at this particular image and wonder about the footprints on the path. Others may admire the architecture of the buildings or the grid (yes, there are people interested in grids!). But I am sure I am not alone in feeling drawn into the possibilities presented by this young couple as they gaze into the shop window.

This picture is never going to win a prize. I don’t think it is even technically a good photograph, but it does something for me and I just wanted to share that thought with the world.

Don’t worry, I am not going to make a habit of rambling on about photographs, but I don’t rule out posting another in the near future. You have been warned.

A sharp turn to the right!

It seems that the world we live in is getting crazier by the day. Just this week we have seen the atrocious terrorist attacks in Spain, white supremacists marching in America and killing opponents to their despicable beliefs, and, to top it all, at home we have seen the growth of a campaign on behalf of that throwback Jacob Rees-Mogg; there have even been suggestions that he could be the next leader of the conservative party! Not that any of these events are truly surprising, but they do highlight the way things are at present.

The whole idea that America is a “white” country is beyond ludicrous. Europeans were the invaders, driving back the indigenous, non-white, population who they have treated appallingly ever since. The colonialist’s approach to the native population represented the worst of European arrogance, something we have seen time and time again as European nations spread their influence across Asia, Africa and the Americas.

North America in particular, has thrived for centuries on immigration. Don’t forget it is a comparatively new country and a large proportion of the population is probably no more than a couple of generations on from an immigrant. The continuing influence of white supremacists in the southern states just goes to show how out of touch with reality and the modern world these people really are.

America may claim to be the land of the free, but to some that only seems to apply if you are a white Christian. One of Donald Trump’s earliest blunders was his idea to place a ban on travel from selected, mainly Muslim, countries. This came in response to perceived threats from Isis. But coming at a time when the biggest threat to innocent lives is from home-grown, gun toting madmen, it is clear that the President either doesn’t understand the real issue, or, more likely, is choosing to ignore it and, like so many people before him, blunder about placing the blame for the nation’s woes on the most visibly obvious minority.

But once again, neither America or Trump are the first to react in this way, and they won’t be the last. When times are hard, or people face uncertainty, rather than look at themselves, they will look outward and seek an easy target to vent their fury and frustration. After all, it is easy to lay the blame for your troubles on others rather than yourself, particularly those who, for one reason or another, are outwardly conspicuous. If unemployment is high, blame the immigrants for taking our jobs. You can’t get on the housing ladder, blame the immigrants who are taking all our social housing stock. Long queues at the hospital, then it must be all those immigrants coming here for free treatment. To anyone with any sense, all of these statements are obviously untrue, but they are things we all hear said time and time again.

Some people don’t have the patience or the capacity to look beyond the overly simplistic rhetoric of the far-right and take the easy option of accepting a point of view that seems to offer a simple solution. But the simple solution is very rarely the best and, hardly ever, the right answer. Trump’s threat to tighten up immigration controls plays right into the hands of the extremists and legitimises their twisted view of the world. And is hesitation in condemning the neo-Nazi’s behind the killing last week of Heather Heyer just goes to highlight that it is not just the KKK that we need to be rid of.

Of course, we face similar, though much less overtly obvious problems of our own. We also have a leader whose position within their own party has been weakened by their arrogance and poor decision making. While Trump plays his dangerous games in the far East, Theresa May continues to flounder around over the issue that dominates the political arena, Brexit. A lot has already been said about the jingoism expressed during that particular campaign. It was just another example of the growing nationalism that we have seen right across Europe. Whilst we do not have the same issue in this country with neo-Nazis, the popular acceptance of right wing rhetoric as worrying.

Terrorist attacks like those in Manchester, London and Barcelona only add fuel to the nationalistic fire. Whether or not they are achieving their goal is hard to say, but what they can take some credit for is giving the far right, as well as those who seek simple solutions, ammunition to back up their calls for deportations and a clamp down on immigration.

And the last thing we need is the likes of Jacob-Rees-Mogg gaining any more influence than he already has. Mind you, if he ever did get himself elected as leader of the Conservative Party it would polarise political views in this country, particularly as the Labour Party is now led be someone from the left. It would ensure their policies were discernibly different.

 

Invasion of the body snatchers

I finally have proof that aliens are here, taking over the bodies of humans as they lay their invasion plans. Only I’m not sure whether it’s my body they have taken over or Michael Gove’s!

You see, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with one of his policies. During his time in Education and Justice, and the whole Brexit debacle, I was comfortable in the knowledge that his ideas and opinions were right-wing lunacy. We are still suffering from the damage he did to both departments, particularly Education. As far as I am concerned, Michael Gove epitomises the worst of the Tories. And then, out of the blue, he not only says something sensible, he goes and proposes a policy that I find myself agreeing with.

That is something I never thought I would say, and it pains me to even think about it.

So, what is it that Mr Gove has proposed that has gone against every principle of his career so far by being sensible? Well, he has announced that he is going to match the funding the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), but on a different basis. Rather than pay the subsidy based on the amount of land they farm, in future they will be paid for protecting the environment and enhancing rural life.

I am not sure how protection and enhancement will be measured, and knowing Gove it may not be quite what it seems, but let’s hope that, for once, he is going to do the right thing. Let’s face it, his approach in his previous departments have been aimed at appeasing the Tory right and getting the best deal for those least in need of help, whilst leaving the rest of us to pay the bill and suffer the consequences.

Farming is an important industry for the UK and it is vital that we protect it. Paying out millions of pounds to already wealthy landowners has never been an effective use of public money. With supermarkets putting pressure on producers to keep prices down, many farmers are being pushed to the brink of bankruptcy. And it’s not just the price of produce that is a problem. In many rural areas, the cost of housing means that low paid farm workers are being priced out of the market.

So, we can only hope that this time around, Michael Gove’s proposal is what it seem and he is at last going to do something positive.

asylum

The lunatics have taken over the asylum

I have been quiet for a few weeks now, not because I have nothing to say or that there is nothing to talk about, because there certainly is. Being honest, as I suppose I must be, I have another project that has rather distracted me of late and taken up what little time and energy I have available.

Looking around at the moment you might be forgiven for thinking that you have entered some kind of twilight zone. As the great Neil Peart once wrote: “You have entered the Twilight Zone, beyond this world strange things are known.” Peart (drummer and lyricists with Rush) has always had a wonderful way with words, and in this 1976 song he was portraying a world beyond our own where anything can happen, based on the TV series of the same name. But here we are, 41 years later and those lines seem to sum up the world I find myself in.

And this is a slightly surreal world, though not too dissimilar from the world of 1976 when Rush recorded “Twilight Zone” for their career defining album “2112”. I had thought we had left the threat of nuclear war behind us, but then along comes Kim Jong-un and his counterpart Donald Trump. Two of the wackiest leaders the world has seen for some time. Whilst Korean madman Kim has nuclear weapons at the top of his birthday wish list, the tragedy that is Donald Trump is flexing his fingers, ready to push that proverbial button. And I am quite sure that if he thought he thought it would benefit him in any way, he would have pushed it by now. For once the Russians seem to be staying out of things. They have caused quite enough trouble in Ukraine and Syria without adding any further fuel to the fire.

So, other than the antagonists, no change there.

And what about things closer to home? Well, things aren’t all that rosy here either. I remember the political and economic mayhem of the 1970s only too well. The economy was going down the pan, labour relations were at an all-time low, unemployment was on the rise and the divide between the rich and poor was as deep as ever. After the struggles on the Margaret Thatcher era it seemed that all of this was behind us, but now I am not so sure.

Over the past few months we have seen acid attacks, terrorists striking our city centres and deaths due to negligence and penny pinching. We have a lame duck government that is struggling to put together anything remotely like a coherent plan for the future. Policy and direction seem to change with the wind, and with the current effects of climate change, that is a lot more frequent than it used to be. And with public sector pay being frozen and jobs slashed, things don’t seem to have moved too far from those troubled and insecure days that gave rise to punk rock and Margaret Thatcher.

Today the BBC published the salaries of its top stars. And linked to the recent pay increases for big bosses and politicians, it just rubs salt into the wounds of our health workers, police, teachers and other public-sector workers who have had to deal with real-term pay cuts for several years now. For someone like Theresa May, who along with her husband has great personal wealth, to condemn those at the lower end of the pay scale is hypocrisy on an almost bewildering scale.

Actually, much of what I see around me at the moment is somewhat bewildering. I have never been able to get my head around the thinking behind the actions of terrorists who target the innocent, or politicians who put personal gain above the needs of the public they are supposed to serve. Unfortunately that is the way of the world we live in.

May has dropped a clanger

So that’s it! The election is now over and all that is left now is for Theresa May to try to form a government. And as the losers retire to lick their wounds and the victorious crack open the champagne, the rest of us are left wondering, what now?

For the Conservatives, the election was a disaster. They had no need to call the election; when she became Prime Minister after David Cameron’s resignation, Theresa May was emphatic about not calling an early general election. When she did go to parliament with the request for an election, she claimed it was to ensure she had a mandate for her reforms and Brexit negotiations. Nobody else wanted the election and I still fail to understand why the Conservative hierarchy thought it might be a good idea. In the end, they were returned with a reduced majority after a disastrous campaign that only highlighted why Theresa May shouldn’t be Prime Minister.

On the other hand, Labour had a much better than expected campaign and secured a result far better than anyone could have anticipated. No one thought that Labour could win the election, and many pundits thought, at the beginning at least, that Jeremy Corbyn was a liability that would cost the party seats and influence. How wrong they all were. It seems that despite the antagonism towards him from the Parliamentary Party, Corbyn has a great deal of support on the ground. A lot of young people were encouraged to go out and vote for Labour in support of him. In my own constituency the increased Labour vote pushed the LibDems from first to third place, a result that no one could have anticipated before the election began.

Although they increased their seats, it was not a good night for the LibDems. They saw the loss of their former leader Nick Clegg and their current leader’s majority slashed to less than a thousand. It seems that for the time being at least we have returned to a two party system.

What all this means for the future, who can tell. Can Theresa May continue to lead her party after dragging them into an election that cost them their majority? Will the Labour Party get behind Jeremy Corbyn and get on with the job of holding the government to account? Can the LibDems ever regain the level of support they enjoyed in 2010? Will UKIP finally go away?

For now we just have to sit back and watch and wait as the parties assess the damage and decide what to do next.

One thing I know for sure is that this election has changed the political landscape. I am not so sure now about the future of the LibDems in those constituencies like Southport where the Labour vote has been suppressed by years of tactical voting. Only a change in the electoral system will give people real confidence to vote with their hearts, but what we have seen is a rejection of the tactical vote, despite it being pushed by most of the opposition parties. This may impact on next year’s local elections, and if it continues, it will certainly make the next general election even more unpredictable.

Personally I have always considered myself a Liberal and have almost always voted that way. But I have been impressed by Jeremy Corbyn over the past few weeks, more for his honesty and style than his policies. The more I read and heard, the more convinced I was by what he had to say, so much so that on the day of the election I found myself questioning my loyalty and very nearly cast my vote for Labour. In the end I voted for the candidate I thought would be best for the town, which just happened to be the LibDem. I am not so sure that this will be the case by the time the next election  comes around.

I am sure I am not the only person questioning their loyalties today. I now need to go away and have a little think…