Democracy fizzles out as Parliament Dissolves.
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Parliament is dissolved – we’re off

alogosdownload (1)The word ‘historic’ is so overused as to make me over-wrought. It has become a synonym for noteworthy. That’s life. Nevertheless this Dissolution of Parliament is historic in its true sense – since this is the first time that a UK general election and the subsequent aftermath of forming a government will no longer be bound by unwritten ‘conventions’. Until this election the Prime minister has effectively exercised the prerogative powers of the crown; determining not only the date of the election but the protocols surrounding the meeting of the next parliament. Instead for the future all Prime Ministers will act by under the aegis of statute – that is the Fixed Term Parliament Act.

So, perhaps, it might be best to start the day after the last  election day.

Last time Gordon Brown faced a ‘hung’ parliament he had two powers he could choose to exercise as he was still the Prime Minister: first he could choose the meet Parliament either with a confidence vote or with his own Queen’s Speech and let the the House of Commons vote it down; secondly, as PM, in theory, he had the first bite of the coalition-forming cherry. There was recent precedent for use of both these powers – the former by Stanley Baldwin in 1924 leading to the first Labour government; and the latter, by Ted Heath in 1974 when, although a few seats less than Labour and a few popular votes more, he first tried to make a coalition with the Liberals under Jeremy Thorpe. Only when that failed did Heath resign and ask the Queen to call Harold Wilson to form a government. These procedures were important – as any PM then still held a third power – the right to ‘request’ the Queen to dissolve parliament. Therefore, whomsoever the crown asked to form a government, he or she did so with the preserved right to request a dissolution. Wilson exercised this right in October 1974; Ramsey McDonald was defeated in the Commons on a confidence motion and similarly asked the king to dissolve Parliament in November 1924.

alogosdownload (1)If there is another hung Parliament – this is not what will happen after this election. This time Mr Cameron or any other party leader who can put together a majority in the House of Commons will be asked by the Queen to form a government. For this purpose, the Queen’s Private Secretary will have an desk in the Cabinet Office – behind no 10. He and the Cabinet Secretary will arbiter the politicians and keep the Queen clear of the party leaders and the party politics of coalition. The Queen is no longer formally involved; she is no longer reliant on the ‘advice’ of her Prime Minster; and no longer informally bound to accept that advice. Whoever gets to the magic number of 326 MP’s –  or can make a stable majority by another route –  will get the nod from the Cabinet Secretary and the Queen’s Private Secretary and will be then formally be asked to form a government. In this struggle to assemble enough votes Cameron and Miliband are now equal. Neither being the incumbent PM nor being the party with the largest number of MP’s – or even a plurality of votes –  is sufficient of itself – to obtain the right to form or lead government; or to enjoy the privilege of getting the first chance to assemble a coalition. Whoever assembles a working majority will govern.

Clearly if any party wins 326 seats outright then de facto it has a majority and will form of government.

alogosdownload (1)However, that is at least as unlikely an outcome as it was at this stage of the last election – indeed more unlikely – since last time at this stage the Conservatives held a 7-8% advantage over Labour in the polls – 37% to 29%.  Of the latest polls two have Labour ahead by 2-4%; and one a Conservative lead of 4% but frankly these leads between the two larger parties have flowed and ebbed for the better part of nine months. In the time left it seems unlikely either Labour or Conservatives will break into a decisive lead. The best assumption is the next Parliament will be hung – and most probably more hung than the last.These are the working assumptions of the Civil Service.

This time it is also highly unlikely that one large party and alone with one other will together command a decisive majority. Last time the Conservatives 307 MP’s combined with the LibDem 57 MP’s to created a coalition with an very effective working majority – and in both Houses of Parliament. This time it will be different. First, the SNP is likely to take about 40-50 seats. Secondly, the LibDems have slumped from 23% to 8% and therefore will loose at least half or more of their seats. Thirdly, even the modest rise of Labour into percentages in the low to mid thirties  - a rise of say 4% on its last election performance – will put a good number of Conservative marginals at risk. The Conservatives could loose up to 40-50 seats to Labour whilst picking up 15 or more Liberal seats. Then we have both UKip and the Greens – who remain unlikely to win many but who may have 6 seats between them. Finally there will be the Irish Unionists (12-15); 2 Irish SDLP and perhaps 3 Sinn Fein MP’s – the latter have previously never taken their seats in the UK Parliament.  Shaking this political kaleidoscope will not necessarily throw up a government composed from party colours in any possible pattern. Metaphorically speaking the parliamentary politics works rather more like dice, loaded in Labour’s favour. How so, you ask? The answer is easy enough to divine.

alogosdownload (1)Given the Labour Party, the Scots and Welsh Nationalists; the Irish SDLP; and any Green Party MP(s) would actively vote down any Conservative government,  the road to assembling a Conservative led coalition or a Conservative minority government is filled with potholes. For Mr Cameron to be able to pursue such a course his party would need to win upwards of 290 MP’s and probably nearer to 300. He would then need to find thirty votes from the Irish Unionists and the LibDems. If Mr Clegg loses his seat or loses the LibDem leadership getting LibDem support might prove harder than last time round. Indeed signs are the risk averse in the LibDem leadership are already thinking only in terms if supply and confidence. Even the NI Unionists are talking in terms of supply and confidence.

The converse is true for Mr Miliband – since he starts off with the Scots and Welsh Nationalists; the Irish SDLP; and any Green Party MP(s) on side. Therefore were he to tempt either the Irish unionists into a supply and confidence arrangement or indeed the LibDems into a similar arrangement - as they did with Callaghan’s Labour minority government in 1976-8 Miliband could form a government and govern as a minority government for at least a stable period of three or four years or even five years.

If Mr Cameron were to insist on meeting the new Parliament it is certain the crown would not attend a state opening. There would be and could be no Queen’s Speech setting out the government program. Instead legislation rather suggests the government would first need to put down or table and carry a confidence motion just in order to establish it had the votes to command the business in the two houses of Parliament – and only then could it form a government. If Labour the Nationalists and the Greens together have over 305-10 votes – the Conservatives would be very unlikely to be able to create a stable government. indeed the LibDems might be just as likely to join the larger more representative coalition as to one narrowly based, even if Mr Clegg wanted to continue as deputy Prime Minister.

The hill for the Conservatives to climb back to power is steeper but it far from impossible. there are now so many local imponderables that local campaigns may make all the difference. most elections throw up a handful of odd results this one might throw up twenty or thirty. That throws any psephologists predictions completely out. It will be a long night.

Meanwhile we have the debates. Thus far both Sky’s Ms Burley and  freelance conservative supporter Paxman felt able to ask in excusably rude questions to the Labour leader. Strangely, Ed survived the kicking they tried to administer in rather better shape than many expected. Miliband in the only leader who will participate in all the ‘debates’. He turns out to be rather better than many hoped or feared – hence the reason Cameron has gone very personal very early.In that sense Cameron’s announcement of not serving a Third term is not only lifted straight from the Tony Blair election book but it has left hostages to fortune.

alogosdownload (1) The problem for Cameron is the same problem he faced in 2010 – the Conservative Party divided over Europe and culturally at war with itself, has failed to win a general election since 1992. Even the unelectable Ted Heath managed to do better. In fact Mrs Thatcher was believed pretty unelectable in 1979. The thrones of kings and seats of power have been filled many times by men and women everyone believed should not have made it. Mr Cameron should note – born to rule doesn’t mean the rules can’t be changed.

 

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Lady Day – the Eve of Eve’s recall

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  Lady Day – the Eve of Eve’s recall

This night can’t hold or keep the angel lights

Who come the dawn, must peep about the Sun

As skylarks rise to sing with seraphim

To Him made man today; a tale begun

When Heaven cast its orders down to earth

And Gabriel’s flight outran day’s risen light.

“All Hail!” He said; as glory had its birth

And Eternal day cast off our endless night.

When Grace’s maid, made to embrace the light,

Let Light embrace a lightless Virgin’s womb.

Then Earth outshone the light of every star

And Death itself was buried in its tomb.

Recall with grace on Lady’s Day that dawn;

And blest be they that on this day are born.

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Globe: Farinelli & the King
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Farinelli c. 1755Carlo Broschi, called Farinelli (1705-82), is known as one of the most famous castrati. Obviously, there survives no recording of this unique voice save for the last castrato in the Western World died in 1922. He was Alessandro Moreschi and he recorded less than one hour’s worth of singing on wax cylinders between 1902 and 1904. The technical quality of this historical recording is poor and he was not the greatest of singers – nothing like the eighteenth century forbears – but its odd survival at least is some indicator of the general aesthetic qualities of the voice.

Castrati were virtuoso musicians; their voices were already notable when the castration was carried out. As exceptionally talented their continued intensive vocal training produced exceptional quality of singers – with both range, timbre and technique. Composers wrote specifically for their voice. In the eighteenth century it was this voice rather than the tenor – which was popularly regarded as heroic. Consequently castrati were often found in aristocratic salons and royal courts where women notoriously fainted in their concert performances.  Almost nothing in their repertoire can be performed nowadays.Castrati were particularly known for their unique timbre: because of the surgery performed on them, their voice did not change with puberty. Upon adulthood, the size of their thoracic cage, their lung capacity, their physical stamina and their strength were usually above that of most men. They had, as a consequence, great vocal power, and some were able to sing notes for a minute or more. Finally, a small and flexible larynx, and relatively short vocal chords allowed them to vocalize over a rather wide range – some over 3 and a half octaves –  and capacity to sing with great agility (they could control wide intervals, long cascades and trills).

This new play featuring Iestyn Davies as the singing Farinelli and Mark Rylance is the King. The play by Claire van Kampen essays the broad subject matters better suited to the recent film – which by extension was better able to using computer technology to engineer a vocal sound perhaps nearer to that of a castrato. that is not to complain about using counter tenors in this place for after all the contemporary counter tenor has turned into one of the most glorious additions to the vocal range available for performance in my life time. Alas with his welcome arrival the great contralto has passed from fashion a voice which no doubt in time will come into its own again..

Any play about castrati means there were low hanging fruits to be plucked and plucked they were tonight. There allusions galore to testes and cuts and if there had to be any cuts – the occasional – shit and fuck might usefully have been excised as they were dropped to cause a giggle and not to add to anything in the way of characterisation. In addition to the well received jokes about balls and men not being all the parts they play and such there was a cast of characters who remain elusive and un developed. They were but foils to the King ( Mark Rylance). Rylance himself gave an insinuating and slightly knowing performance which was true to the words but left me wondering whether it was not too carefully crafted to the particular skills of a single actor.

0000000000000farinelliimagesOn the subject of men playing parts; not quite being the part they play; and kings being made-up men – I’m not sure this play has added much that Hamlet has not said on this subject at greater length and more concisely. To this dramatic conceit there was of course the an added attraction singing – which was quite beautiful – and it was a pleasure to see Iestyn Davies in court dress…yet as it was the singing was not wholly integrated into the play itself. It was an add-on that might have been as usefully left off.  that said, the costume for Farinelli was to die for….

The play is really a one man show. The man in question being Mark Rylance – Cromwell in Wolf Hall- although the play’s subject is Philip V of Spain – the younger grandson of Louis XIV and the Bourbon successor to the Hapsburg Charles II. The consequent Wars of the Spanish Succession were therefore essentially a family matter which neatly finds its distant theatrical echo in the fact that Claire van Kampen is Mark Rylance’s wife.

It is for court historians to note the coincidence of family connection self-promoting its kin.The stage is one world where this royal practice endures. It is for others to sing its praise or wail its lament.

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Election: from Paradise postponed to Paradise lost…

alogosdownload (1)Some votes may mean more than others:

Last week Labour retook a council seat in Harlow it had lost to UKIP. Council elections are not predictive in any sense and for the moment wise heads like You Gov’s Peter Kellner see Cameron’s Conservatives emerging with around 290 seats Labour far, far behind on 260.  Kellner knows an awful lot about polls and polling and his prognostications are not to be lightly dismissed.

What does seem to be happening is that here is a slow squeeze on the UKIP and Green vote…but then that is rather how things might be expected to be in this phoney war before the election begins and the main TV Media have to report on a more equal basis. We also have to debates to consider which will doubtless bring some headlines the way of the minority parties which includes for the present the LibDems.

alogosdownload (1)However, only the LibDems, the Northern Ireland Unionists and the SNP of all the minor parties seem to have any certain chance of emerging from the General Election with a sizable bloc of MPs. The obvious political question is whether or not a Nationalist group might equitably support a Union government – the answer is that the NI Unionists supported the Conservative Party until the troubles of the late 1960′s and until 1969 the Conservative Party was itself a coalition of two parties  - the Conservatives in England and Wales and the Unionists in Ireland and Scotland. The unionists were themselves relics of that earlier fight for Irish Home Rule. From the time of Parnell,  the Liberal Party regularly relied upon the votes of Irish Nationalist MP’s and continued to so do until 1921 and Irish partition. There is therefore no reason to assume that the SNP which lies to the left of Labour would not properly wish to lend parliamentary support to a government of the left in Westminster. If the Conservatives are over 300 seats there is nothing to suppose the NI unionists might not perform the same role in sustaining a government led from the right. The question of the EU is the thorn in the side of any such coalition for it is now hard to see the NI unionists would want separation from the EU anymore than the SNP want Scotland out of Europe. The problem for the Conservatives is that a failure of the referendum to take us out of Europe might take the die-hards out of the Conservative party. good riddance many might think but these would doubtless take with them many conservatives in local party associations. For Mr Cameron the referendum might change Paradise postponed into Paradise lost.

Meanwhile Mr Miliband endures – the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have given this brother of a David a couple of  free slingshots at the Goliath of the Media – that’s David Cameron. Last week Ed hit home even if he didn’t slay the giant. The HSBC scandal – yet another from the augean stable that is our banking institutions – highlighted once more a weakness of the Prime Minister  - his frank lack of curiosity about the background of his favourites when it comes to appointmenting them to his government. In that sense the real story was less about bank accounts in Switzerland and more about the Andy Coulson narrative. Cameron has long argued it was nothing to do with him when things went badly wrong – he asked all the right questions – but then along comes Lord Green who cannot but have known about the potential for money laundering in the Swiss arm of HSBC over which as Chairman he had governance and oversight. It perhaps serves as a timely reminder that Ed Miliband’s unique insight into politics in 2010 was that the Financial Crisis  of 2007-2009 forever had changed the rules of the political game. We are about to find out if this insight amounted to foresight.

alogosdownload (1)The Conservatives were pretty gung-ho in January that all their ducks were lining up nicely for an easy victory in May. This seems to be the received wisdom but the polls continue to tell a slightly different story. The marginals polling shows Labour doing better than nationally. The Lib Dem/Conservative marginals show the Lib Dems holding on despite their horrible national polling results. The polling in Scotland shows the SNP will sweep the board…but if their support goes to Labour that may not make the outcome very different. Thus far February has been kinder to Labour than January. This is a long, long campaign. Mr Osborne will be pulling rabbits from his budget hat next month – though many of his choicest bunnies may not run far it is highly unlikely the Finance Act will get through parliament before dissolution. Perhaps the most interesting sign of these times was at the BCC Conference. Mr Cameron pleaded for businesses to increase wages – slightly reminiscent of Labour leaders long past pleading for wage restraint at a Union Conferences. Mr Miliband has also taken to being interviewed on his right side profile…a trick that Mrs Thatcher once was taught too by her Media gurus.

In all of this I cannot help but think of Mitt Romney and 2012. To the end the GOP and news Media gurus believed they’d won the argument; that the Electoral votes were in the bag; that the polls were going to turn in their favour at the last minute. Obama still won after fighting a dogged if uninspired re-election campaign. Things sometimes do not turn out how the wise believe they should.

Below – the result from that byelection – no more than a straw poll but maybe a straw in the wind? Some one will surely emerge a winner – and maybe the misunderestimated Ed Miliband against the odds will oddly be the one whose Paradise is regained – who knows? Like so much in this election the latest polls are helpfully contradictory…

alogosdownload (1)Mark Hall on Harlow (UKIP Defence)
Danny Purton (Lab) 586 (43% +8% on 2014)
Mark Gough (UKIP) 353 (26% -12% on 2014)
Jane Steer (Con) 334 (24% +4% on 2014)
Murray Sackwild (Green) 55 (3% no candidate in 2014)
Lesley Rideout (Lib Dem) 47 (3% -5% on 2014)
Labour GAIN from UKIP with a majority of 233 (17%) on a swing of 10% from UKIP to Lab

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Reported speech – Pope Francis – what he said and what he didn’t say….
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Popes speaking…..

The papacy has a long history of speaking its mind and saying things which do not meet with much favour. It can defend itself. it does not need me to argue its case. It could pay for a better defence.

There was a bit of a media storm over what Pope Francis  is reported to have said in his interview. I give the whole transcript of the interview below and offer no commentary. All I will offer is that there is more than the famous quote that has bounced about social media. As that comment came in a context of a series of questions I provide the full exchange leading up to the controversial comments. There were questions before the one where I have begin but these were specifically about global warming and about the Pope’s forthcoming Encyclical on that subject.

Before the transcript I want to leave you with these words as they pretty much summarise my own thoughts. They were first published on 11th April ,1963:

….Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood.  Moreover, man has a natural right to be respected. He has a right to his good name. He has a right to freedom in investigating the truth, and  -within the limits of the moral order and the common good – to freedom of speech and publication, and to freedom to pursue whatever profession he may choose. He has the right, also, to be accurately informed about public events. He has the natural right to share in the benefits of culture, and hence to receive a good general education, and a technical or professional training consistent with the degree of educational development in his own country. Furthermore, a system must be devised for affording gifted members of society the opportunity of engaging in more advanced studies, with a view to their occupying, as far as possible, positions of responsibility in society in keeping with their natural talent and acquired skill. Also among man’s rights is that of being able to worship God in accordance with the right dictates of his own conscience, and to profess his religion both in private and in public. 

Transcript of an impromptu interview given by Pope Francis between Sri Lanka and Philippines:

Juan Vicente Boo (ABC): Holy Father, first of all I must say that for someone who is tired, you look well. I want to ask you on behalf of the Spanish group, about the history of Sri Lanka and contemporary history. During the years of the war in Sri Lanka, there were over 300 suicide attacks, by men, women and young boys and girls. Now we are seeing suicide attacks on the part of young men and women and even children. What do you think of this method of waging war?
Pope Francis: Maybe I am being disrespectful, but I feel that behind every suicide attack there is something unbalanced, a lack of human equilibrium. I am not sure if it is mental, but it is human. Something that is wrong with that person, who does not have true equilibrium regarding the meaning of his own life and that of others. He fights, he gives his life, but he does not give it well. Many people who work – for example missionaries – give their lives, but to build. Here life is given to self-destruct and to destroy. There is something not right, no? I advised on a thesis on Japanese kamikaze pilots written by an Alitalia pilot. I checked the part about methodology, but it is not understandable. This is not something that happens only in the East. There are investigations going on right now on a proposal which arrived during the Second World War in Italy, a proposal to the fascists in Italy. There is no proof, but there is an investigation, there is something there which is very connected to totalitarian systems, it is very linked. The totalitarian system kills, if not life then possibilities, kills the future, many things. This problem is not over, and it is not only a problem in the East. It is important. I cannot really say anything else. The use of children: children are exploited for many things. They are exploited for work, as slaves, also sexually abused. Some years ago, with some members of the Argentine senate, we wanted to run a campaign in the most important hotels, to publicly say that children must not be exploited to serve tourists, but we could not do it. There are hidden resistences. I don’t know whether these things are faced or not, it was a preventive measure; then, other things: when I was in Germany and saw newspapers, I read about tourism in southeast Asia, and there was sex tourism, and there were children … children are exploited, the slave work of children is terrible, they are exploited for this, too. I can’t say more.

Ignazio Ingrao (Panorama): Holiness, there is much worry in the world for your safety. According to Israeli and American security services, The Vatican may be even a target of Islamic terrorists. On fundamentalist web sites the Muslim flag has been depicted flying from St. Peter’s. There are worries for your security when you go abroad.. We know that you don’t want to lose contact with the people. At this point, is it necessary to change something in your behaviour, in your plans? Is there also fear for the security of faithful who take part to your celebrations. Are you worried about this? And more in general, what is the best way to respond to this threat of fundamentalist Muslims?

Pope Francis: ”The best way to respond is always meekness — being meek, humble. Like bread, no? Without being aggressive – I feel this way. There are some who do not understand this. And I am concerned for the faithful, truly. I have spoken with Vatican security about this: here on flight there is (the chief of Vatican police) Mr. Giani who is charged with solving this, he is updated about this problem. This concerns me, no? It concerns me enough. I have fear, but I you know I have a defect, a good dose of unawareness. I am unaware of these things.
Some times I ask myself: what if it happened to me? I have said to the Lord, ‘I only want to ask you one grace. Don’t let me come to harm, because I am not courageous in the face of pain, I am very, very fearful’ … But they can take security measures that are prudent, but secure. Then, we will see.

Christoph (Germany): Holy Father, good morning. Could you tell us about your time at the Buddhist temple yesterday, which was a big surprise? Which was your motivation for such a spontaneous visit? And then, are you inspired by this religion? We know that Christian missionaries had the conviction until the 20th century that Buddhism was a fake and a religion of the devil. The third (question), what could be the relevance of Buddhism for the future of Asia?

Pope Francis: How was the visit and why did I go? The head of this Buddhist temple was able to get himself invited by the government to go to the airport and there – he is a very good friend of Cardinal Ranjith – he greeted me and asked me to visit the temple, also he told Ranjith to take me there. And then speaking with the cardinal – there was a bit of time because when I arrived I had to cancel the meeting with the bishops because I wasn’t feeling well, I was tired from the 29 kilometers of greeting people. I was worn out. And there wasn’t time; and yesterday returning from Madhu there was the possibility, and we called and went. In that temple, there are the relics of some disciples of Buddha, of two of them. They are very important to them, and these relics were in England and they were able to have them given back. This is how: he came to visit me at the airport, and I went to visit him at his home.
Yesterday, I saw something that I would have never imagined in Madhu. They weren’t all Catholics, not even the majority. There were Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and all of them go there to pray and they say that they receive graces. There is in the people, who never err, something that unites them; and if they are so naturally united so as to go together and pray in a church, which is Christian but it is more than Christian because everyone wants it. How could I not go to the temple of the Buddhists to greet them, no? And this testimony yesterday in Madhu was very important. It makes us understand the sense of inter-religiosity that is lived in Sri Lanka. Respect among them. There are fundamentalist groups, but they are not with the people. They are ideological elites, but they are not with the people.
Then, (the question) that they will go to Hell. But people said the same of Protestants, when I was a child. At that time, 70 years ago, all of the Protestants were going to Hell, all of them – that’s what we were told. But then, I remember the first experience I had of ecumenism. And I told this the other day to the heads of the Salvation Army. I was 4 or 5 years old but I remember and I can still see it. I remember I was walking down the street with my grandma hand-in-hand and on the other sidewalk, two women from the Salvation Army were coming down the street with those big hats on that they used to wear with the ribbon. It was a special thing, but now they don’t wear them anymore. But, I asked my grandma, but tell me are they sisters? And she told me this: “No, they are Protestants but they are good people. That was the first time that I heard someone speak well of someone from another religion, of Protestants. At that time, in catechesis they told us that everyone was going to Hell. But I think that the Church has grown so much in its awareness, in respect – as I told them in the religious meeting there in Colombo – in values – when we read what the Second Vatican Council says to us about the values in the other religions. The respect of the Church has grown a lot in this respect, no? And, yes, there are dark times in the history of the Church. We need to say so without embarrassment because also we are on a path of continuous conversion always from sin to grace. And, this inter-religiosity as brothers always respecting each other is a grace.

Sebastien Maynard (La Croix): Holy Father, yesterday during Mass, you spoke about religious liberty as a fundamental human right. With respect to other religions, how far can the freedom of expression extend, since this latter is a fundamental human right, too?

Pope Francis: Thanks for the question, that is smart, it is good. I think that both are fundamental human rights, religious liberty and liberty of expression. You can’t … Let’s think, are you French? Let’s go to Paris. Let’s speak clearly. You cannot hide a truth. Everyone has the right to practice their religion, their own religion without offending, freely. And that’s what we do, what we all want to do.
Secondly, you cannot offend or make war, kill in the name of your religion, in the name of God. What has happened now astonishes us. But always, let’s think to our history, how many religious wars we have had. Think of St Bartholomew’s night (when Catholics massacred Huguenots during the French wars of religion in 1572, editors note). How can we understand this? Also we were sinners in this. But you cannot kill in the name of God, this is an aberration. Killing in the name of God is an aberration against God. I think this is the main thing with freedom of religion. You can practice with freedom without offending but without imposing or killing.
The freedom of expression… Every one of us has not just the freedom, the right, but also the obligation to say what he thinks to help build the common good. The obligation. If we think of a congressman, a senator, if he doesn’t say what he thinks is the true path, he doesn’t collaborate in the common good. We have the obligation to freely have this liberty, but without offending. It’s true that you cannot react violently. But, if Dr. Gasbarri, my great friend, says something against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others, you cannot make fun of the faith. Pope Benedict, in a speech, I don’t remember which, he spoke of this post-positivist mentality, of the post-positivist metaphysics that brought people to believe that religions or religious expressions are a type of lower culture: that they are tolerated but that there’s not much to them, that they are in not part of an enlightened culture. And this is a lecacy of the Enlightenment. So many people speak against others’ religions. They make fun of them. Let’s say they “giocatalizzano” (make a playng out of) the religion of others. But they are provoking, and what can happen is what I said about Dr. Gasbarri if he says something about my mother. There is a limit. Every religion has dignity; I cannot mock a religion that respects human life and the human person. And this is a limit. I’ve used this example of the limit to say that in the freedom of expression there are limits, like the example I gave of my mother. I don’t know if I was able to respond to the question. Thanks.

Conclusions -

I offer none – he speaks for himself and he should be heard for what he said and not was he was reported to have said. As for the piece in italics above – that is from a document called Pacem In Terris - it is written by one Angelo Roncalli – AKA Pope John XXIII. He was in his last weeks and it was composed during the final stages of his intestinal cancer.

Final thoughts serve all of us as last testaments and these are not ignoble thoughts to have harvested from a life’s time…

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2016 – the grounds for optimism….
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Democrats versus Republicans…..

U.S.A. FlagIn the last hundred years or so there have only been three occasions when an incumbent Party has won three Presidential elections on the trot – Harding, Coolidge and Hoover for the Republican Party (GOP) between 1920 and 1932;  FDR for the Democrats  - winning four elections from 1932 to 1944 and then Truman winning in 1948 to make it five in a row. and G. H Bush winning in 1988 to succeed Ronald Reagan who served two full terms from 1980 to 1988.  Al Gore almost did it in 2000 winning the popular vote but not winning where it mattered in the Electoral College.  And G. W. Bush’s presidency possibly owed more to that Republican dominance from of the White House  from 1968 to 1992 which had firmly tipped the balance in the Supreme Court towards conservative legists who refused to permit the rerun of the election in Florida which the Florida Supreme Court had ordered.

If the Midterm elections are any guide to anything – then the coming election should be a Republican victory. The GOP controls both Houses of Congress – picking up 9 seats in the Senate – and holding on firmly to its majority in the House of Representatives. Additionally, it also controls a majority of the state governorships and a good number of the State Houses across the nation. The victory is November 2014 was easy and convincing – except – except in the febrile state of US party politics old certainties no longer seem very certain.

The Republicans have no obvious candidates. Instead they have a string of flawed options. First is Governor Chris Christie who masterminded the victory in last November having won reelection as governor in a traditionally ‘blue’ (Democrat voting) state. Since that election Christie has struggled – there was a furore over events of the Washinton Bridge between NYC and NJ which has tainted the Governor’s reputation. Worse, all the polling within the state shows him trailing Hilary Clinton by 20 percentage points. The argument for Christie – he could win where no other Republicans can win – has evaporated. Under pressure of events the Governor’s notoriously short fuse has already blown a couple of times in public. Into this void have stepped two other ‘mainstream’ GOP favourites- Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. Their problems speak for themselves- Romney was a terribly wooden losing candidate in 2012. He still is as wooden as ever in the unforgiving Media gaze where Obama is so comfortable. Jeb Bush would be the third scion of the dynasty to reach for the highest office. In many ways a much more subtle intelligent politician than either his brother or his father – Jeb might well deserve to win – but he carries the Bush brand name and it is hard to see that baggage winning over the heart and soul of the Republican Party. He has half announced and immediately claimed the front of the crowded field – on a meagre 17% of the poll. These are not the numbers of a sure fire nomination winner.

The rest of the GOP field is strewn in wannabes like Mick Huckabee and Senator Marco Rubio – who have  a broad appeal in the party but no appeal beyond the already reddest states and Tea Party favourites like Ron Paul, Ted Cruz and Rick Perry. Outside this group stands Governor Scott Walker who has charisma but lacks a broader base in the party and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who has Asian ethnicity and a glib way with words but also a way of making enemies from friends. These look more like Vice Presidential hopefuls but many men can look themselves in the mirror and see the next President of the United States. One of those who is fond of mirrors is Mitt Romney’s erstwhile running mate gym giant Paul Ryan – right wing, Catholic with an edgy whiff of the narcissist. He has counted himself out if he is to be believed.

Here we ago again

Here we ago again

Against this wide field the Democrats have a field of one and she has yet to speak. This nomination is Hillary’s to loose but then in 2008 many wise saws saw the same thing and she lost. Mrs Clinton has all the virtues of being the obvious candidate but has yet to make the case for being the inevitable choice. Her ambition to be the first women president is undiminished but like Richard Nixon and Mitt Romney Mrs Clinton is uncomfortable in the eye of the TV camera. It is said in private she is witty and amusing. The same things were once said of Gordon Brown. In 2008 bill clinton proved to be a drag on her candidacy – perhaps this time he can offer her something she lacks – a warmth.  Her daughter Chelsea will also add another dimension to her mother’s candidacy – not least the evergreen of all politicians in all times – the baby –  but perhaps the greatest persuader will be none other than her sometime rival – President Obama.

The State of the Union address is historically the moment when Presidents rally the country to their party. Popular presidents can launch themselves into the political ground of their opponents. It shows how quickly things can change –  just 10 weeks ago President Obama looked like a lame duck dead in the water. He was hopelessly unpopular. Since then his numbers have rallied dramatically. He has carefully crafted this speech to claim party credit for the uptick in the US economy. We are early is the days of political and economic recovery – but sometimes confidence is everything. Above all – he can now hold the Republican Congress to account for all the falings to come and the Republicans in the House look as if they might yet rise to the partisan occasion. There are those on Capitol Hill who would like to impeach Obama. There are those who say if the repeal bill for what is disparagingly called “Obama Care” is vetoed by the President – as it would be – it might give them the occasion to impeach. There are other cooler heads who say they will collapse the government by threatening to shut it down by refusing it supply.

Mrs Clinton will calculate her advantage in all this but one thing is certain – the Democrats may be down but they’re not yet out of the game in 2016. The blue map still holds and if Obama is as popular as Bill Clinton in 2000 – or even Ronald Reagan was in 1988 –  then the Republicans might already be on the back foot in the 2016 election – that’s before they elect to shoot themselves in the other foot by doing something very stupid.

They forget at heir peril that the President had learned an awful lot about politics in Washington in his six years there….

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A matter of debate
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The end of January and still the fog persists:

alogosdownload (1)There are lots of sights that will give the latest polling figures for the forthcoming election. There are many more that provide a forecast of the election result. I cannot compete with their expertise on either front. There are an awful lot of polls. We seem to have almost as many now as in presidential elections in the USA. And thanks to Lord Ashcroft we now have polls in a breadth of constituencies on a scale we’ve never before seen. Whether these will enable anyone to divine more than might otherwise be divined is very hard to say.

What can be said with certainty - if the polls are to be believed  - is that definitive moment of clarity which the pundits promised would arrive with autumn and the party Conferences has yet to arrive. The defining moment may be the fall in oil prices which have put some genuine money into folks’ pockets at just the right time. Whether Osborne and Cameron deserve credit they are only human and only politicians and like all of their kind – they’ll take the credit – whether or not it’s their due. It is for the voters to decide whether their claims are credible and in that battle my voice and vote are mine alone. One voice credible or incredible and carries no weight.

That said the rest of the evidence is that neither of the larger parties seems likely to break loose now and in the anniversary year of the start of World War I it is apt that it looks like stalemate will govern us for the next four years or so.The shape the stalemate is to take is just as uncertain. There is now a discernible rise in the Green vote in the polls.This has chipped more votes from Labour. UKip meanwhile refuses to deflate and no matter how slight or silly they are portrayed to be by wise pundity their Teflon coating is in tact. Thus if their numbers are on a gentle decline once they get the oxygen of publicity in the campaign the numbers may once again be on the rise.

alogosdownload (1)The LibDems are similarly becalmed somewhere in the region of 10% but the SNP looms large over their Scots seats – as it does even more devastatingly for Labour – and thus it seems likely that they can hold no more than around 30 pf their current seats in parliament.

Meanwhile, the debates that were such a novelty in 2010 look less likely to happen in 2015. Again, politicians are bound to calculate to their party advantage and if Cameron can find a safe way to avoid the debates there is honestly plenty of advantage to be gained. It will be the broadcasters who most likely determine that outcome. However, the rising % for the Greens in the polls would make it easier for all those involved to include the Greens but that will itself not really resolve the problem because the SNP – like Banquo’s ghost – is very likely to intrude upon proceedings. Essentially, Cameron has probably decided on his tactic and will stick to it and that is now going to make this a very different election. If he wins or gets to be PM after May 7th it will be seen as a stroke of political genius – if however he loses – like Heath’s ‘who governs Britain election – it will be seen to have been a big mistake. if he is seen to have been forced to the debating table in the larger debate forum that comes before the head to head – Cameron may be beset and that will not look good on TV.

All this said the balance of political advantage has surely turned towards the coalition government – money in pockets helps every incumbent government –  but whether that is just to the advantage of the Conservatives alone – is another debatable point.

However, unless Labour picks up in Scotland it is hard to see how they will emerge as the largest party in any election that is this close. The great things is we have only three months left before we know the answers ….

The latest calculation shows Labour 280 Conservatives 279 SNP 38 LibDems 25 UKIP 5 Greens I Others 22….that path leads I’d say to Labour but truth told who knows?

 

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Provocative – Hilary and the Wolf –

The Tudors & Wolf Hall – or who’s afraid of Hilary Mantel’s wolf?

Below a Rood Screen – in Brittany – these were also typical of northern European church interiors before the Reformation – before the art, the stained glass with its elaborate story-telling, the illuminated books and manuscripts and much more were utterly destroyed in the name of reform.

This all seems a long time ago now and centuries on the ruins left to us seem almost romantic – Tintern Abbey- but we lost a millenium of our culture in that holocaust. As we reflect upon the upheavals in Islam we might ponder the fact that we still struggle with the complex truths of those events of the first half of the sixteenth century and their immediate consequences for the century that followed – from say 1546 to 1648 which ended in the terrors of the Thirty Years War. The horrors on both sides of that series of interlocking wars permanently divided Europe.Those divisions echo on down into our daily lives and into how we think. Those horrors in the aftermath of the equally appalling horrors World War I inspired that bleakest of dramatic takes on human amorality – Mother Courage and her Children.

I write as one who enjoyed the American series The Tudors. It caught a lot of the atmospherics and motivations of court life in the times of Henry VIII even if it was a bit cavalier with facts and many of the male leads looked more like gym bunnies than horsemen. The Tudors was a frolic with a lot to recommend the romp.

Ms Mantel’s take as we saw last night takes itself altogether more seriously. It is almost grandly portentous. Despite it’s obvious drama even Shakespeare found it hard convincingly to stage the reign of Henry VIII – it is one of thee weakest of the history plays. Generally, dramatists since have narrowed focus and looked at matters from the viewpoint of particular characters – A Man for All Seasons – seeing it from More’s highly principled moral stand – Anne of a Thousand Days from Boleyn’s viewpoint – the Six Wives of Henry VIII – from the wives side generally. Mantel follows that line but sensationally inverts the relative moral virtues of two principle protagonists of the period – Cromwell and More. The result is – A Man for All Seasons with Thomas Cromwell as hero and Thomas More as vilain – Cromwell – enlightened – broadminded – More – a burning bigot.

Whatever Cromwell virtues and vices and Ms Mantel’s talent to amuse – this is arrant unhistorical nonsense. It belongs to that genre that gave us the more recent movies – Elizabeth and Elizabeth – the Golden Age. That said, I’ve got no problem with historical fiction and just love the Three Musketeers but this stuff is being passed off in the Media as insightful History.

Worse historians have been suckered into joining the Media caravan which only flatters to deceive. In public Hilary Mantel has taken upon her slight shoulders the weight of scholarship. She argues – like a clairvoyant – that she sees more truths as they really happened in her informed imaginings than poor historians dare to imagine on the basis of dull research.

Thus I am forced to observe: Hilary Mantel may have read some printed sources but she has hardly grasped any of the main issues. I liked the costumes and the setting. I liked the acting – characters drawn true to the author’s penmanship. I just refuse to take the rest of this seriously. I do not mind employing over-simplifications to engage a wider audience to a subject – I do mind them being passed off as the truth of the subject.

At the end of the day I cringed at some of the stuff. The secret meeting of Cromwell and a bunch of ‘Reformers’ pedalled all the old old propaganda of that confessional war. We no longer need to take confessional sides to see the complex truth of matters and dispassionately weigh the gains and the losses. But reinforcing unchallenged the stereotypes of that propaganda presents us with a caricature.

The danger is when we cannot face the complex truth about our own past will we never be grown up enough to accept the complex and challenging realities of our present when dealing with the complexities of religious and political fundamentalism.

So who’s afraid of Hilary’s Wolf – me for one – I’m always afraid of fiction masquerading as truth and opinion masquerading as scholarship.

The Tudors & Wolf Hall -  or who's afraid of Mantel's wolf?</p>
<p>Below a Rood Screen - in Brittany -  these were also typical of northern European church interiors before the Reformation - before the art, the stained glass with its elaborate story-telling, the illuminated books and manuscripts and much more were utterly destroyed in the name of reform.</p>
<p>This all seems a long time ago now and centuries on the ruins left to us seem almost romantic - Tintern Abbey-  but we lost a millenium of our culture in that holocaust. As we reflect upon the upheavals in Islam we might ponder the fact that we still struggle with the complex truths of those events of the first half of the sixteenth century and their immediate consequences for the century that followed -  from say 1546 to 1648 which ended in the terrors of the Thirty Years War. The horrors on both sides of that series of interlocking wars permanently divided Europe.Those divisions echo on down into our daily lives and into how we think. Those horrors in the aftermath of the equally appalling horrors World War I inspired that bleakest of dramatic takes on human amorality - Mother Courage and her Children.</p>
<p>I write as one who enjoyed the American series The Tudors. It caught a lot of the atmospherics and motivations of court life in the times of Henry VIII even if it was a bit cavalier with facts and many of the male leads looked more like gym bunnies than horsemen. The Tudors was a frolic with a lot to recommend the romp. </p>
<p>Ms Mantel's take as we saw last night takes itself altogether more seriously. It is almost grandly portentous. Despite it's obvious drama even Shakespeare found it hard convincingly to stage the reign of Henry VIII  - it is one of thee weakest of the history plays. Generally, dramatists since have narrowed focus and looked at matters from the viewpoint of particular characters - A Man for All Seasons - seeing it from More's highly principled moral stand - Anne of a Thousand Days from Boleyn's viewpoint - the Six Wives of Henry VIII - from the wives side generally. Mantel follows that line but sensationally inverts the relative moral virtues of two principle protagonists of the period - Cromwell and More. The result is - A Man for All Seasons with Thomas Cromwell as hero and Thomas More as vilain - Cromwell  - enlightened - broadminded - More - a burning bigot. </p>
<p>Whatever Cromwell virtues and vices and Ms Mantel's talent to amuse -  this is arrant unhistorical nonsense. It belongs to that genre that gave us the more recent movies - Elizabeth and Elizabeth - the Golden Age. That said, I've got no problem with historical fiction and just love the Three Musketeers but this stuff is being passed off in the Media as insightful History.</p>
<p>Worse historians have been suckered into joining the Media caravan which only flatters to deceive. In public Hilary Mantel has taken upon her slight shoulders the weight of scholarship. She argues -  like a clairvoyant  - that she sees more truths as they really happened in her informed imaginings than poor historians dare to imagine on the basis of dull research.</p>
<p>Thus I am forced to observe: Hilary Mantel may have read some printed sources but she has hardly grasped any of the main issues. I liked the costumes and the setting. I liked the acting - characters drawn true to the author's penmanship. I just refuse to take the rest of this seriously. I do not mind employing over-simplifications to engage a wider audience to a subject - I do mind them being passed off as the truth of the subject. </p>
<p>At the end of the day I cringed at some of the stuff. The secret meeting of Cromwell and a bunch of 'Reformers' pedalled all the old old propaganda of that confessional war. We no longer need to take confessional sides to see the complex truth of matters and dispassionately weigh the gains and the losses. But reinforcing unchallenged the stereotypes of that propaganda presents us with a caricature.</p>
<p>The danger is when we cannot face the complex truth about our own past will we never be grown up enough to accept the complex and challenging realities of our present when dealing with the complexities of religious and political fundamentalism.</p>
<p>So who's afraid of Hilary's Wolf - me for one - I'm always afraid of fiction masquerading as truth and opinion masquerading as scholarship.

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From Je suis to J’accuse in one short week
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Murder most foul in Paris

Ghost : Murder most foul, as in the best it is; But this most foul, strange and unnatural.
Hamlet: Haste me to know’t that I with wings as swift as meditation….may sweep to my revenge.

Shakespeare seems a good place to start since for many in the secular culture of the West – or at least Western Europe –  the bard stands in the place of God as the author of truth. Hamlet – as we are to discover over five long hours –  turns out not to be who he says he is at all at this introduction – not at all the man to sweep to his revenge – rather he’s a man prone to endless agonising and postponement. It is rather that flaw of character – rather than the murder most foul – that actually makes Tragedy.

Tragedy: last week seventeen people were shot in Paris. Roughly half of them were journalists. It has generated a blinding blizzard of comment. In Nigeria Boka Harem – another Muslim fundamentalist terror group –  has killed 2000 people in recent times – practically without comment in the Western media. This week in Sri Lanka the pope canonised a local saint Joseph Vaz. This briefly refocused our memories of the terrible civil war between the Sinhalese majority and the minority Tamils – both non Abrahamic religious cultures.  That war was crowned by a decade long period of government by Mahinda Rajapaksa – supported vigorously by the West and China – who crushed the Tamils and then went on to mercilessly persecute them. We saw no evil; we heard of no evil; no one wrote of any evil; we did nothing. Tomorrow in the Kingdom of Saud a man who wanted to speak his mind freely will receive his second fifty lashes out of 1000. This week in PMQs the Prime Minister in the House of Commons refused to condemn the Saudi regime.The House of Saud is the West’s loyal ally – purveyor of oil and Arabian stallions by royal appointment by exchange of favours they buy our military weaponry. Elsewhere in mainland Europe this week anti-semites have been prosecuted for inciting hate crimes in writing – particularly in denying the Holocaust.  In France Charlie Hebdo again published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohamed. In the same France a self-styled comedian (Dieudonné) was arrested for ‘defending terrorism’ after publishing a comment on Facebook. He is a notorious anti semite who has previously been arrested for expressing repugnant opinions in Media and onstage. In Afghanistan the new government supported by the Western powers is in negotiation with the Taliban. Five years ago the Taliban were regarded as ‘terrorists’ and as our enemies. This week also saw Tony Blair summoned to Parliament by Mr Speaker to account for his actions in Northern Ireland – in respect of on-the-run IRA men accused of but not charged with terrorist crimes of gravest brutality including murder. This list is random but representative. It represents a complicated reality behind the mask of liberal democracy.

Culturally, we are apt to see crimes we elect to be inhuman as indisputably crimes and those we elect not to see or comment upon as pragmatically passable. It is therefore not surprising than some viewing us from the safe distance of their own culture look on us as self serving hypocrites. Yes, indeed the demonstrations in France brought together a shocked French people but in its wake it also gave a respectable public platform to a collection of very dubious political leaders who seem to think Free Speech is fine for journalists in Paris but not for those Ankara or Jerusalem or Moscow or Cairo. Given we are metaphorically linking our arms with such company it seems inexplicable altogether to have excluded Marine Le Pen whose political views are certainly no worse.

Alas, this is not the Age of Reason and it is quite clear reason has little to do with all that has been going on and is now ongoing. This is a surge of irrational emotionalism of the sort we have seen before in modern times – say the death of Diana, Princess of Wales for example. We have also for example seen these emotionalised outbursts in the aftermath of gun murder sprees in the USA but as yet they have not yet led to gun control. They play particularly well in modern Media as they fill the void that’s between the horror of an event and the sober reflection upon it.

This is powerful stuff – in the aftermath of 9/11 it led to two wars – one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. These were the first of the so-called ‘wars on terror’. Like the ‘war on drugs’ or the ‘wars on crime’ before and the subsequent wars on ‘terror’ – for example since in Libya and Syria – these have not ended well for those who declared them. The cost in blood and treasure is almost unmeasured – and on all sides – but would certainly have more than filled the hole made by the financial crash and filled many bellies long left empty in the Third World.

Most of this week muslims being interviewed in the Media have been asked to profess their horror at these murders in Paris – as if they might feel otherwise. Is that assumption not just a tad racist? It was the sort of dehumanising tactic the Nazi propagandists employed against the Jews in the 1930′s. When Anders Behring Breivik – murdered eight people to save Norway and Western Europe from a Muslim takeover –  proclaiming that the Norwegian Labour Party had to “pay the price” for “letting down Norway and the Norwegian people” –  I do not recall leaders of Christian denominations being asked to dissociate themselves from this practising Lutheran; nor do I recall Media journalists asking spokespersons for right wing political parties first make ritual denunciation of this act of ‘terrorism’ or ‘murder’ – call it what you will – before making any further comment. We can be skilled with double standards – they’re all about us if we open our eyes wide.

Since those terrible events in Paris further comment seems to be the order of the day. For example – Suzanne Moore in the Guardian on 14th January  has spoken-up for women – who appointed her as their spokeswoman is not clear – although from her comments it is clear this is not the job that any man might do – so much for equality. Her article alchemised what she calls ‘feminism’ and what she calls ‘faithophobia’ –  which would –  if the word were to mean anything – mean the irrational fear of faiths. Judging from the tone of her column that is its meaning as quite a lot of what she said was fluently irrational – not least her digression into ritual religious practices of Christian and Muslim religions in the seventh century – I best say Common Era – lest Anno Domini sets off another avalanche of ‘faithophobia’.  She is not alone. Most of those engaged in this running commentary in the Media – commercial and social – seems to want to talk up for everyone else. Whilst I am as anxious as any to have my say I must first make it clear I speak for myself alone. I do not speak for men –  gay men –  Roman Catholic or Christian gay men – historians in general or Tudor historians in particular – my friends – my neighbours or any I know, living or dead.

I lived most of my life in this society as a member of one or other despised minority. I am gay; I am irish ; I am Roman Catholic; I’m also left handed – that is sinister rather than dexter. Therefore,  I am extremely dubious of any debate that demonises others for their beliefs or conduct or nationality. Frankly quite a bit that has been said under the guise of enlightened comment about freedom of speech has been little short of racism dipped in the blood of martyrs. In this case the martyrs are secular –  martyrs of the Media. They have shed their blood for a noble cause, the freedom of the press. The journalists knew they were taking risks and like Salman Rushdie refused to be silent and be dammed. They were murdered for not being cowed. It is important for the rest of us not to be cowed. The Jews in the kosher supermarket were getting ready for Sabbath. They were deemed guilty by racial association with the actions of the Israeli state against the Palestinians. They were shot for no good reason. The policemen were only doing their job – apparently it is not a job any decent Muslim may do if their murderers are to be believed. That of course begs the real question – are these murderers to be believed any more than Anders Breivik is to be believed or any of the IRA who killed indiscriminately for their cause?

However, it is more than a little ironic that those who now shout most loudly about freedom of speech – citing Voltaire (a man who happily took the coin of absolute monarchs for his fee – no questions asked) mostly are employed by newspapers and media groups that would have happily seen these left wing intellectuals who worked on Charlie Hebdo publically traduced as knaves and mocked fools before the fatal shots were fired.

It is not part of my brief to defend religions or defend my religious beliefs. The febrile aftermath of Murder is not a good time to start a reflective discourse on these matters. I know as plainly as the nose of my face that whatever these guys say – they are essentially unreliable sociopaths who – like serial killers – have a totally warped view of the rest of humanity. In their heads they justify actions that taken from any other rational moral standpoint – secular – atheist – religious – are wholly immoral and irrational. This is not the first time such evil has seeped into our lives. It will not be the last.

This lot may carry the Koran and call itself Muslim but before it carried Mein Kampf and called itself National Socialist – it has carried in its time the works of Aristotle; of Plutarch or Seneca; the works of Voltaire or Rousseau; it has carried the Communist Manifesto and the little red book of Chairman Mao; it has certainly carried the Bible; it has certainly worn the the habit of the humble friar in the cause of the Inquisition; it has mounted the arms of the Crusader; it has also worn the uniform of the freedom fighter. Time and again – it has usurped the piety of good men and of good philosophy and made them serve its evil heart. It is in mankind. It is in our imagining and we carry it from generation to generation. The greatest danger to this sort of evil is to think either we are immune from it – or by some simple nostrum – we can make ourselves immune to its effects – or that we can stop it happening again by simple acts of commemoration. Horrors fade overtime and what was unthinkable fifty years ago many will feel free to think again. That is the history whether we wish it to be or not.

What I choose to believe about this world – how it came to be – or my place in it – or indeed my relationship to anyone one I know – or to any I have known – or to any I believe I know or any you imagine I imagine I believe I know – does not make me a serial murderer or a suicide bomber. True Philosophies reflect on life they are not susceptible to simple cause and to a single effect, murder. Cod philosophy through time walks with murder – as immortalised by Shakespeare’s Jack Cade in Henry VI Part II. The act of killing is unlicensed in society – save in War – formal or otherwise – when we may kill many with impunity. When we fight – it is a good war or, neutrally, perhaps a mistaken war. When our enemies fight – it is an evil war and neutrally, deliberate aggression. Beware the double standard it often leads to double vision – or even blindness.

Voltaire and the ‘philosophes’ took an essentially optimistic view of mankind – as a creature of reason and enlightenment. in the event – of Revolution – it turned out we were less reasonable and enlightened than they supposed. Noble causes and good intentions often end in bloody chaos. Perhaps there is something to be said for all the religions which take a more pessimistic view of men and women – vain to self; prone to venality; likely to take what we can for ourselves by force and to call it principle. One man’s law maybe another’s tyranny. Many written constitutions of such tyrannies are replete with high flown sentiment. We all worship lots of things but we don’t always deign to call them a deity but the acts of worship can demand just as much ritual sacrifice from someone – usually someone else’s expense. Over the time of our evolution and particularly over the last ten thousand years we have grown better at organising ourselves and our lives in a way that permits the majority to enjoy some sort of life. Civilisation is but a work in progress and what is here today may be gone tomorrow replaced by something we think better or believe worse. But whatever we build will always contain all of our flaws. Anything else is fairytales and best left to children and to childhood where black and white reign supreme and easy judgements come in one dizzying rush one after another.

I prefer a grown up world of complex cause with multiple effects. I prefer to call murder by its proper name and be done with it. I prefer to treat those kill for no good reason as murderers not as terrorists. They do not kill for a cause because there is no cause for which we should unilaterally assume we own the right to take another’s life. We do not need to mix up murder with a debate about morals, religion and philosophy because the men who pulled those triggers in Paris –  like all those before them and those who will come after –  had already resolved to go beyond reason, beyond argument and beyond belief.  They’re gangsters and bullies and whatever they said they believed – they would still be gangsters and bullies. And given what they are willing to do – we have no reason to think of them in terms other.

For the rest I’ll leave that to the commentariat with their retweeting Media multiplications and rhetorical lowest common denominators –  and their jargon – ‘faithophobia – yes indeed like all phobias –  an irrational fear.

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Attention Readers
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Attention Readers -

I have received a couple of enquiries about my history pages but the emails inadvertently have been deleted before I replied. If you wish to contact me please use the email under contacts and i will get back to you. John Murphy

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