Category: Uncategorized

Thinking Aloud on a Sunday

Reblogged from my other blog, for those of you that might not see it there. Because I think it is important.


Children In Need.

For those of you who do not live in the UK, Children In Need is an annual BBC fundraiser, designed to raise money for local charities who would not otherwise get funding. The whole programming of BBC One, on a specific Friday evening, is given over to a telethon fundraiser, a night of varied entertainment, charity appeals, and live fundraising. It is presented by a group of popular celebrities, and traditionally features a host of well-known entertainers appearing in situations you would not usually associate them with. Like the stars of a drama series performing a dance routine, and so on.

During the build-up to this event, the UK is consumed with fund-raising events. Most of these are personal efforts, though many are corporate, involving well-known businesses and shops supporting the cause all over the country. Over the years it has been running, Children In Need has…

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America: Gun control, and mass shootings.

The recent mass murder in Nevada has once again brought the subject of gun control into the media spotlight. Debates about the Second Amendment, the availability of converted weapons to fire on fully automatic, and the laws that mean some people, in some states, can own as many guns as they can afford to buy. In many American towns and cities, carrying guns at all times is completely legal. These can be openly displayed, or concealed about a person, depending on where you live. Background checks are random, and gun shops are often laid out like superstores of lethal weaponry.

I have many blogging friends who live in the USA. At least three of them own guns, and defend their right to do so, for various reasons. The most prominent of these being the fear of home invasion, robbery, burglary, a random attack in the street, or whilst driving. Given the proliferation of firearms of all kinds in that country, I can understand why these are real fears. As I have said before, I don’t have to live there. Another side to gun ownership is the action by the police, when apprehending suspects or attending 911 calls. They tend to presume that any culprit will be armed, and this generates a fear that manifests itself on occasion by the ‘shoot first’ policy that has caused so much outrage in that country. But if you were an American policeman, approaching a scene you were unsure of, then what would you do? We cannot really answer that, unless we have been in that situation.

Despite the recent uproar, the archaic Second Amendment is unlikely to be repealed. We have all heard the old arguments about that ‘Right to Bear Arms’.
“If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”
“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”.
And many more…

But the fact is that banning personal ownership of guns will eventually make it harder for criminals to get them, whatever the arguments by the NRA. It is also indisputable that criminals and robbers will tend to carry guns more often if they believe that their intended target or victim is armed. And it is worth noting that the worst shooting atrocities in the USA are not carried out by criminals, or those from ethnic minorities. Most of them, including the recent Nevada shooting, are the work of white men, with apparently ‘normal’ lives, allowed to buy and accumulate weapons and ammunition in large numbers.
Carrying your pistol to fight off a street robber wouldn’t have done you much good against that determined sniper in a Las Vegas hotel, after all.

In the UK, in 1996, gun club member, and self-confessed ‘gun nut’, Thomas Hamilton entered a school in the small town of Dunblane, Scotland. He was carrying four legally-owned handguns. Two Browning Hi-Power 9 mm pistols, and two .357 magnum revolvers. He also had almost 750 rounds of extra ammunition. In the school gymnasium, he shot and killed sixteen children under the age of eleven, and one adult teacher, before shooting himself dead. The reason why he did this remains unknown. Following this shooting, the gun laws in Britain were radically revised, making it almost impossible to legally own a handgun.

These statistics from the Internet give some indication of the differences in gun deaths in the UK and the USA. They include Police shootings of suspects.
“In the United Kingdom, in the most recent year for which I have data (2011), the gun death rate from all causes was 0.23 per 100,000. That works out to about 145 in 2011.

In the United States, for the year 2014, the gun death rate from all causes was 10.54 per 100,000. That works out to 33,612 in 2014.

The UK gun death rate is one of the lowest in the world for the very simple reason that few people have guns.”

In one year alone, 2014, 33, 612 people died in America, as a result of someone using a gun. Just one year, and that was three years ago. It doesn’t include so many shooting incidents that have happened since. What will it take, for you to give up your guns, America?

The Other Floods

We are all concerned about the terrible effects of the hurricane that has hit Texas and Louisiana. Families left without homes, industry and traffic systems brought to a standstill, and a sad loss of life too. Constant news reports bring us updates about the rescue efforts, appeals for charitable donations, and the immense cost of rebuilding and recovery once the waters subside. Everyone affected has my genuine sympathy, and I cannot imagine what they must be going through.

But this is in the richest country on Earth. A country that has the means to throw billions of dollars at the problem. A country where its own president is so wealthy, he can afford to donate $1,000,000 of his own money to the relief fund, and not even blink. America has a vast infrastructure, and is able to call upon huge resources of manpower, industry, and equipment. Whatever the terrible conditions that currently prevail, we can rest assured that everyone will receive help of some kind, eventually.

On the other side of the world, there has also been flooding. Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries, has one third of its area under water. Over 50,000,000 inhabitants are directly affected, and more than 1,000 people have lost their lives. Whole towns and villages have disappeared, and the crops in the fields are all gone, destroyed by the still-rising flood waters. In Nepal, hundreds of thousands are homeless, and large parts of India are also affected. This is happening in an area without the means to cope. Countries with little or no infrastructure, no Blackhawk helicopters to evacuate stranded hospital patients, and without the means to provide most of those affected with basic aid, such as water and food.

Neither of these disasters is anybody’s fault. But one has happened in a place that can cope, and the other is still going on in places that cannot. Watching the news, you would have to search around for reports from Bangladesh. Somehow, stranded cars and pickup trucks, flooded urban highways, and military evacuations of victims seems to be more important, because it is happening in America. It is easy to forget those far-away countries, with languages and customs we don’t understand.

But their disaster is just as real.

Mexico wins the moral high ground

I have only just found out, but Mexico has made generous offers of help to the victims of Hurricane Harvey. The Mexican government expressed solidarity with the USA, and offered to send troops to aid with distribution of supplies, as well as providing medical teams and staff from rescue agencies.

This is the country that has been accused of so much by the current U.S. President, and the same country he wants to isolate America from, by building a wall along the border. There have been many appeals to help those suffering as a result of this hurricane. Donations to the Red Cross have been suggested, alongside many other disaster relief agencies. Mexico has offered unrestricted physical aid, and there is nothing to suggest that this is anything but genuine.

Not only did America decline this offer, Mr Trump took time to tweet that he will still build the wall, and will ensure that Mexico pays for its construction. Perhaps he should have been concentrating on sorting out this disaster in America’s fourth largest city, but no. Instead, he chose to be rude to a sovereign country and close neighbour, not only rejecting their offer out of hand, but dragging up the issues about the NAFTA trade deal and the wall at the same time.

Does he even know what ‘Diplomacy’ means?

Slavery: Back in the news again

After my recent post about the removal of Confederate monuments, I had decided to leave this whole issue well and truly alone, believe me. But Britain loves to take a lead from America, whenever it can. Burger chains, Baseball Caps, and Halloween parties are all good examples of the British love of American ideas. This has now extended to copying the idea about removing monuments that cause offence. Especially those that can be identified with slavery.

This is the article that started today’s furore.

Where we live, in Norfolk, they are very proud of Admiral Nelson. He was born here, and is celebrated in museums, street names, hotel names, and even on the county road signs, which proclaim “Norfolk. Nelson’s County”. But despite his reputation as the saviour of England during the wars with France, and his death in action on the deck of the flagship ‘Trafalgar’, it seems we are honouring a man of little worth. Someone who used his position in Parliament to oppose the abolition of slavery. His statue high on a plinth in Trafalgar Square is one of London’s landmarks, but we now find out we should be ashamed it is there. Of course, this was a long time ago, when we remember he was killed in 1805, but no matter. History is not what counts here, whether it is good history, or bad. We have grown since then, and learned to be better. Time to get his statue of of that plinth, and take down those road signs, surely?

Once again, I am reluctantly drawn into this argument, and cannot look away. I don’t know Afua Hirsch, though I am sure that she is a nice lady. She is a barrister, and a successful journalist, so I am comfortable in my presumption that she is well read, and highly intelligent. She has a background of an English father and Ghanaian mother, and was born in Norway. Interviewed on TV this evening she spoke confidently and with great assurance, defending her argument that we had to look again at memorials to anyone connected to slavery in any way, and remove them.

The reporter debated the issue with her, based on Nelson alone, and his reputation as an English hero. It was local news, I hasten to add, and not much happens in Norfolk. But he didn’t ask her the questions I wanted to ask her. He didn’t ask her about the once great Zulu nation, which was formed on slavery. He didn’t ask her about the African slave traders who sold their own people to western countries. I know it doesn’t make it any better that those places were involved in slavery. I don’t defend it, and it is unacceptable in any society, at any time. But it isn’t just about pre-Civil War America, or Imperial Britain.

He didn’t ask her if she had ever been to Rome, or visited the Pyramids in Egypt. Perhaps she has enjoyed a trip to Central America, to see the famous temples there, or ventured down to Peru, to marvel at the mountaintop remains of once great cities? All built by societies that had slavery at the heart of their very existence. A weekend in Athens perhaps, gazing at The Parthenon? Ancient Greece, the founding stone of Democracy, built on slavery. Or doesn’t that matter? Are they too far back to worry about? When does it end, and what is the cut-off date? Or does it only matter about black slaves from Africa?

I wanted to ask her all of those questions, because nobody else did.

History Is Bunk

Many of you may not be aware, and many will not even care, but there has been a great deal of controversy in America of late. Besides the antics of Mr Trump, his cabinet, and his family, or the bluster and counter bluster with North Korea, something else has been going on.

Some states have decided to remove statues and memorials dedicated to people who served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, from 1861-1865. Famous generals like Robert E. Lee, and some statues of other officers, as well as memorials to fallen Confederates are being removed by the authorities. The reasons given for this vary, but the overall idea is to stop ‘glorifying’ people who fought in a cause that supported slavery. I could add quotes, or write all day about the many other reasons why that war happened, but there would be no point. It has become seen as a war against slave states, by states who did not support slavery, and that seems to be the end of it. In other places, the display on public buildings of the Confederate flag, the famous ‘Stars and Bars’, has been outlawed too.

Much of the reason for this backlash can be explained by the fact that Far-Right groups in the USA, including the KKK, and other White Supremacist organisations have ‘hijacked’ this flag, and used it for their own reasons. Also that these monuments are honoured by these same groups, some of which would like to see Secession from the Union happen again. It is claimed that the descendants of slaves, the modern day African-American citizens, are offended by having to walk past statues of Confederate generals, reminding them of the enslavement of their forefathers. The issue has been warmly embraced by Liberal white groups too, and pressure applied to get these monuments removed.

Just yesterday, I became drawn into a heated ‘blog argument’ on the issue, on the site of a very nice lady. I don’t intend to do that again, so no need to look away now…

So, why do I care? I am English after all. American history is for Americans to sort out, surely? Best if I kept my nose out, and let them remove what they want, without me antagonsing their citizens on the blogosphere. But I do care. I care because it is history. Not just American history, but world history too. I care in the same way that I cared when ISIS destroyed religious monuments in Iraq and Syria. When the Taliban destroyed ancient art in Afghanistan, or when the post-soviet Russians pulled down statues of Lenin. Taking away any memorial does not make the history go away, or become any more acceptable to future generations. Something else has to happen, before that is complete.

That something else is the gradual erosion of history by default. Not bothering to stock the books in the library. Removing the teaching of the period from the school syllabus. Forgetting to report on the anniversary of a significant event. It is so easily done, and has been done many times before. In a few generations, it is all forgotten, like it never happened. There is nothing left to remind us, after all. And what about the double standards? Slave-owning Andrew Jackson is on the US $20 bill, and his former plantation home is a ‘national monument’. (Jackson is to be removed from the currency, by 2020)
Mount Rushmore is built on land stolen from Native Americans who were driven off of it, and Florida’s Disney World was once home to the proud Seminole people. How do their descendants feel about those reminders of the desecration of tribal lands, I wonder?

Every nation has an uncomfortable past. My own country spent centuries conquering foreign nations, and reducing their people to little more than servants. But the history of that is still there to be seen, with the statues of colonialists like Cecil Rhodes and Robert Clive sitting proudly on their plinths. It doesn’t mean that the later generations were unaware of their shortcomings, and for all I know, may well provoke debate about their actions. Tens of thousands of people from an Indian or South African background walk past such monuments in London every day. Yet there are no cries to have them taken down. Trying to remove ‘inconvenient’ history is the first step down a very slippery slope that has no end. It was an American, Henry Ford, who once declared that “History is bunk.”

Let’s hope he is not proved right.

Sporting sadness

I will start by admitting that I am no fan of sport, let alone Tennis. I haven’t followed Wimbledon since the ‘tie break’ rule came in, and we lost the thrilling games of yesteryear. Plus ‘Baseline’ tennis also bored me to tears, and I yearned for a return to those ‘serve and volley’ days.

But my post today is about sadness. Sad at the desperation this country feels to achieve some acclaim, in modern sport. So much fuss today, about Johanna Konta. She is ‘representing’ Britain, and has achieved a breakthrough, to the Wimbledon semi-finals. Her success has been lauded as the first time a British woman has been through to this round, since Virginia Wade, in the equivalent of the tennis ‘stone age’.

How proud we are. How effusive are the commentators, and the excited news reports. Flags are flying high, British tennis is on the ascendant. Although she may be minced up by one of the Williams sisters, those automatons of modern tennis, it doesn’t matter. She is through, and we are almost ecstatic as a nation.

But hang on. Something is wrong here, surely?

This young lady was born of Hungarian parents, in Australia. She had an Australian passport, and played tennis for that country. Fair enough, she was born there. Johanna Konta, Australian tennis star. That sounds good. Well done to her. Australia has a great tennis heritage, and she should do well, given the right chances. But then her parents moved to the UK. Johanna went to Spain, to improve her tennis skills. So, Johanna decided to become a British citizen, just five years ago, in 2012. She then appeared as a tennis player for Great Britain. No longer Hungarian by the nationality of her parents, or Australian by the nationality of her birth. Suddenly, she is British, and our great white hope in tennis.

So, am I proud? No, quite frankly, I am ashamed. Because she is good at a particular sport, she is accepted immediately, unlike so many others struggling for a British Passport. Give her nationality, forget her Australian (and Hungarian) roots. She is as English as me. Hooray! Remember Zola Budd? I do.

As far as I am concerned, this is simply unacceptable. Sporting prowess should not equal nationality.