It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. Preparations to go away on holiday rumble on, as does the weather, by and large. Dull, hot days predominate still, and at least twice in the night during the week I woke in the early hours to hear rain drumming and thunder crashing, and thought about Colin’s roof, while muttering a fevered prayer and crossing my fingers before dropping back to sleep. Record temperatures have been the order of the day, but no sunshine.
Matilda has settled down to such a little routine of her own, that she’s going to find it a shock to the system when we head off to the hairy-arsed regions of the north, leaving her to the tender mercies of Granny, Uncle Phil, and Katie the doggy nanny. But for now, she goes out first thing, comes back for her breakfast, goes out again, watches the squirrels, comes in, goes out, and eventually, at dusk, comes in, has a couple of suppers, and settles down on Colin’s settee.
Misty’s week has been a special one, because on 3rd July we celebrated the fact that she has now been with us for two years. It hardly seems possible, but nevertheless, the calendar doesn’t lie. Actually, she didn’t do anything specifically to celebrate, other than a 19 mile walk starting and finishing at Binn Lane, accompanied by Debbie and Zak. Everyone slept well that night.
It’s also been the last week of term, something for which we have all been fervently longing. Typically, however, there was one more grimbly lurking in the undergrowth of life, in that the camper battery died on its arse on Friday, the van refused to start, and Debbie had to go in for the final day of term on the bus. Meanwhile, I called out the recovery man. The verdict is still open on the battery – once it had been on charge overnight, it started up OK the next day, but the unresolved question is why did it run down in the first place.
This week also marks the renewal date for the home insurance and the camper insurance, which means I have spent much more time than any sane person would ever countenance on the phone to dreary companies who tell me that my call is important to them and I am now number 47 in the queue. Giving people money should not be this hard. The reason for the prolonged trawling of the internet and various call centres is that both the house and the camper insurance had been creeping up and up, because the temptation is always to go with a quiet life, an easy solution, and just accept the renewal. I wish I had done the exercise last year – or even the year before – because I saved £270 on the house insurance and £218 on the camper, minus whatever it costs for breakdown cover, which I now have to arrange separately. And all achieved without the help of any bloody meerkats.
As part of the holiday preparations, Debbie’s new walking boots arrived this week. This was actually a necessary purchase, rather than a frivolous one, because the old boots have really had it, and are probably only fit now for a Viking funeral. Plus, of course, being Debbie, she did hours of online research first, and got a really keen price, from a web site in Germany. A possible reason for the really keen price was revealed when the said footwear arrived, minus insoles. Fortunately I was able to provide a rough and ready translation into German of “my insole is missing” which allowed her to at least contact them.
I had forgotten all about it until a couple of days later when, out of the blue, she asked “What is Abs Chicken?” I replied that I didn’t know, but it was probably a chicken that spent a lot of time at the gym or something. However, when advised of the actual context, I was able to dredge the sludge at the bottom of my brain for the remaining nuggets of German implanted there by Frau Graham back in 1970, and tell her that “abschicken” was a German verb, involving sending things. So, it would appear that the missing insoles are even now winging their way towards us from Germany. Assuming they can avoid the searchlights, the barrage balloons and the night-fighters.
A more serious piece of news from Debbie was that apparently, from next term, she and her colleagues will all be given compulsory training in recognising “radicalisation” and spotting students who are displaying it. It seems that we’ve got so inured to the mess we’re in that this seems to have been mutely accepted as necessary by all those concerned, although in effect what it amounts to is the Blue Blight Brigade recruiting a whole new set of “thought police” at one remove. If this is something which is going to be “rolled out” nationally, I can only foresee trouble.
For a start, it simply won’t work. If I was a student who was in any way “radicalised” – whatever that means – and I knew that my teacher had been primed to snoop on me for signs of “radical” sympathies, I would make damn sure that I kept my head down in the classroom, didn’t spout off about it, and passed my exams with flying colours, just to put them off the scent. It also, of course, fundamentally affects, indeed, damages, the relationship between teacher and pupil. I know from seeing it at first hand that in some cases the role of teacher also encompasses that of counsellor, and confessor, and much more. You are much less likely to open up to someone who you think is going to snitch on you to the Feebs. It’s like we’ve stepped back to the McCarthy era.
The other thing which concerns me about it is the question of “what exactly is radical behaviour?” I might hold some fairly “radical” ideas myself about the way in which society should be organised and structured. How soon, I wonder, before the Blight extend the definition of radical to people who, for instance, believe passionately in animal welfare, or to the “Occupy” movement, or the anti-fracking campaigners, or DPAC, or anyone who looks a bit funny in their book?
Again, the fact that few people if any have questioned any of this is evidence of the relentless tide of fear and propaganda which has been pumped at us of late. We are, of course, at the conjunction of the significant 10th anniversary of the 7/7 bombings, complete with re-runs of several documentaries on this and on 9/11 on TV, and the fallout and aftermath of the Isis attack in Tunisia, complete with the government hijacking the grief of the families with military-style repatriations and a minute’s silence for the victims. In addition, we’ve had the spectacle of a full-scale war-game anti terror exercise being played out on the streets of London, and given pride of place in the TV news. Just to remind us, of course. I know that the security services are necessary, in order that we should all sleep safely in our beds, and they need to be trained, but they have plenty of facilities available for this without the need to do it in public. There are army ranges in Norfolk, and on Salisbury plain, where there are full size replicas of Afghan villages, so I am sure knocking up a plywood front of a mocked-up tube station is not beyond the remit of the Royal Engineers. There is only one reason for holding such an exercise in public, and that is to scare people. Scared people are much easier to manipulate.
The Blight say that basically, Isis are coming for us all, they may even be under the bed right now, and every Muslim is a potential terrorist, because after all, why else should they have to suffer the insult of being all considered for snooping, en masse, by their teachers. If I was a Muslim, I would feel both anger and hurt over this, all being painted in the same light, reinforcing stereotypes, and feeling that I couldn’t be trusted to be part of my chosen country. If you try and delve deeper into the causes of all this, though, the “government”, if I may dignify it with a title it manifestly does not deserve, are altogether more reticent. Why do Isis and their ilk hate us so much? Where did they come from, because they didn’t actually exist in Iraq at the time we invaded. The answer is, of course, that we created them. We have been, firstly, Al-Qaeda’s, and latterly, Isis’s best recruiting sergeant. If you keep prodding a wasps’ nest with a stick, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get stung.
One definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result so it came as no surprise to me this week when Cameron suggested that the appropriate response to the Tunisian outrage was to extend the RAF bombing missions against Isis to include targets in Syria as well. Of course, it will do no good, in any real terms, but Cameron feels he has to be seen to be doing something, however lame, ineffectual, and useless. It’s the same as the government response to the spread of bovine TB. Keep the Daily Mail and the NFU happy by culling badgers, even though it won’t do any good.
What disturbs me, though, is the reaction of Labour’s shadow defence spokesman Vernon Coaker, who said that the Labour party would “look at” any proposals that the “government” made in parliament to vote for extending the bombing. Either he is carrying on the craven, supine, lack-of-opposition that has characterised Labour since 2010, or he is criminally stupid and unaware of the issues. If you’ve got a pen, Mr Coaker, please take notes.
Firstly, in financial terms: there is no point whatsoever in firing missiles that cost £800,000 each to destroy a Toyota Hilux pickup truck of approx market value £1500 in a Godforsaken desert wadi somewhere. Given that everything these days seems to come down to money, at least this argument should carry some weight with MPs. The evil Tories are currently looking to steal £12bn from the benefits budget in the name of the false God, “Austerity”. What has it cost us to have that squadron of RAF Tornado aircraft in Cyprus flying missions every other day to bomb Isis in the Iraqui desert? They’ve been at it for eight months or so now, so that’s 240 days, say they fly a mission every other day, that’s 120 x £800,000, or approximately £96,000,000 in ordnance alone, not counting fuel.
Then there’s the “strategic” argument. True, the air strikes – which are overwhelmingly flown by the USAF anyway – may have had some limited success in blunting the Isis advances on certain strategic targets. But are we expected to keep this up forever, just to make sure they stay in their box? They are never going to be defeated by bombing from the air alone. Philosophically, you cannot persuade someone that jihad is misguided and democracy is much better, from a height of 20,000 feet. Militarily, they need to be crushed by ground forces, but there are others in the region who can, and should, be stepping up to the plate to do that, not us. The whole sorry intervention, which began in Iraq and Afghanistan, and wasted the lives of hundreds of British personnel in those two countries to achieve precisely nothing, should on no account be extended to include further deaths in other theatres of war.
The proponents of bombing Isis also claim that it prevents them from committing atrocities. This is plainly rubbish, yet you see it advanced again and again. It was also the rationale behind some of our actions in Libya. I’m afraid there is another harsh and unpalatable truth to face up to here. Intervention does not prevent atrocities, it merely determines which set of people get fed through the shredder. People still die, however much we meddle. And go on dying, in the ongoing refugee crises which our meddling causes.
Finally, there is the argument that bombing Isis in Syria will decrease the likelihood of terrorism at home. Precisely the opposite is true. If you really want to give people a reason to become “radicalised” let them see members of their religion being napalmed on the news. Then expose them to the preaching of a set of lunatics who are still living in the middle ages and who have a ready-made “solution” for the problem, in the form of a suicide belt. As they used to say in the 1930s, the bomber will always get through. At the time, they meant bomber aircraft, but the maxim holds even truer for the lone, alienated individual, flying under the radar. Do we really want to create phalanx upon phalanx of new recruits to this ideology?
So, there you are, Coaker minor. I hope you have got all that, I will be asking questions later, and the wrong answer will result in you receiving my Labour party membership card in the post with no stamp, cut into 5mm squares.
The fact that we’re even contemplating extending the bombing to Syria also gives the lie to any pretence that the idea of “Austerity” is anything to do with really saving money and balancing the books. While even the Tories wouldn’t go so far as to actually provoke an outrage just to take the pressure off elsewhere, there is, nevertheless, a tacit understanding that all this fear and paranoia is very helpful to them in masking their true intentions and preventing people focusing on the debate over just where the £12bn of cuts should fall, for instance. It emerged this week that the Blight have been considering cutting ESA, which replaced sickness benefit, to the same levels as Jobseekers’ Allowance, on the grounds that the higher rate of ESA apparently acts as some sort of incentive for people who “choose” to be on benefits as a lifestyle choice. Charlie Pickles, who despite her name, is actually female, from the Tory think tank Reform, said:
"We have a huge gap between disabled people's employment rate and non-disabled people's employment rate and if you are building in perverse incentives, within a benefit system, then you are encouraging people to move on to that benefit,"
Well, there you have it. Yes, Charlie, you are right, you have foiled my cunning plan. Sixty years ago I deliberately chose to be born into a family with defective genes because I knew that one day, I would develop Muscular Dystrophy just so that I could access disability benefits! I also shot my parents so I could go on the orphans’ picnic, and any day now I’m going to burn the house down so I can be homeless and get free tomato soup!
Charlie is obviously a proper Charlie, and indeed is quite clearly in a pickle. I looked her up on LinkedIn. Upper second in modern history at Oxford, worked for the high flying consultants, Accenture, and then between 2010 and 2012 was a special adviser to Iain Duncan Smith. I don’t want to pre-judge the issue, so I will move my comments from the particular to the general at this point. Political life in this country is infested with “special advisers” who have never had to live in the real world, from privileged backgrounds, and they represent 75% of what is wrong with the standard and calibre of politicians in public life today. The other 25% is greed.
But it’s all down to money, you see. Since the days of Thatcher, you can justify anything if it will bring in money or create jobs. This week saw the closure of the deep coal mine at Hatfield, which will devastate the local area. However, we are supposed to rejoice, because at the same time, the North York Moors National Park voted to allow potash mining – a potential ecological disaster and a dangerous precedent, especially if the Fracking industry has its eye on any National Park sites – on the grounds that “it will create jobs”.
Perhaps they should reflect on the Native American saying which has been around for a while now in various forms, and was originally attributed, I think, to Chief Luther Standing Bear:
When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, you will realize that you cannot eat money
The best way of creating full employment (purely in practical terms, and disregarding any moral issues) would be to start another world war, of course. Maybe that’s the plan behind it all. If so, sadly, it makes little difference in that scenario if Greece votes “No” in today’s referendum and sticks two fingers up to “Austerity” but I still hope they do.
And so we came to today, Sunday. Today is the feast day of several saints with very silly names, all of them superficially attractive to write about: Marinus, Domitius, Triphena, Edana and Numerian, to name but a few. To be honest, none of them particularly appeals to me, and there is no specific Anglican ceremony on which to tag this Epiblog, either. We are now firmly ensconced in the period called “Common Time”that stretches from the end of Easter to the start of Advent.
There has, however, been one major development on the spirituality front this week, or at least for me there has. I read an online review of a book called Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the Nature of the Universe, by Robert Lanza, who is apparently a respected American scientist, of whom I had never heard. I haven’t read the book yet, but I may take it on holiday with me. Despite its rather ponderous if not actually misleading title, it posits the theory that life does not end when the body dies, but goes on forever.
So far, so Biblical. But what Lanza has done, apparently, is to meld this theory with physics, astrophysics and quantum physics, which puts it firmly in the area I have been writing about for some time. Admittedly, I write from pure ignorance, whereas Dr Lanza is a doctor, at least of something or other. Rather than make a hash of his theories by trying to re-constitute them in my own words, it mprobably makes more sense to just quote from the review:
Biocentrism teaches that life and consciousness are fundamental to the universe. It is consciousness that creates the material universe, not the other way around. Lanza points to the structure of the universe itself, and that the laws, forces, and constants of the universe appear to be fine-tuned for life, implying intelligence existed prior to matter. He also claims that space and time are not objects or things, but rather tools of our animal understanding. Lanza says that we carry space and time around with us “like turtles with shells.” meaning that when the shell comes off (space and time), we still exist.
The theory implies that death of consciousness simply does not exist. It only exists as a thought because people identify themselves with their body. They believe that the body is going to perish, sooner or later, thinking their consciousness will disappear too. If the body generates consciousness, then consciousness dies when the body dies. But if the body receives consciousness in the same way that a cable box receives satellite signals, then of course consciousness does not end at the death of the physical vehicle. In fact, consciousness exists outside of constraints of time and space. It is able to be anywhere: in the human body and outside of it. In other words, it is non-local in the same sense that quantum objects are non-local.
Lanza also believes that multiple universes can exist simultaneously. In one universe, the body can be dead. And in another it continues to exist, absorbing consciousness which migrated into this universe. This means that a dead person while travelling through the same tunnel ends up not in hell or in heaven, but in a similar world he or she once inhabited, but this time alive. And so on, infinitely.
This is so like what I have said in several previous blogs that I am definitely moved to find out more., As before, no doubt I will be constrained by my lack of understanding of the science behind the physics, but I want to give it a go.
After a long period of being unexcited by any spiritual topic whatsoever, and of beginning to question whether there was actually a point, and it was just that we couldn’t see it, or there was absolutely no point to anything at all, reading this review has at least set me thinking. I can only hope the book lives up to it, and isn’t 99% unintelligible gobbledeygook and psychobabble.
For those who can’t be bothered to flip back through previous blogs to find the bit I wrote at the time (and who can blame you!) I speculated that what we call God might actually be the universe and everything, all having existed outside of time for ever and ever, amen. Actually, I don’t really have the words to explain it, although it could probably be neatly done in an equation, if I had the maths. Which I also don’t. Imagine something which just goes on forever and which has gone on forever and which contains everything that has ever happened or will happen in the course of all the possible universes resulting from all of the available choices to us at any given moment. We move in this, we are contained within it, we navigate over it with the loophole lens of what we call consciousness. For a while, in the illusion of time. That is currently the nearest I can come on paper to a definition of God.
Of course, that is a long way from the picture of an old geezer with a beard and a white robe, sitting on a throne, judging people and issuing laws carved on tablets of stone. And this is where the problems start. In the middle ages, I would no doubt have been burned at the stake for even getting this far, but maybe there is no judgement, no perdition. That doesn’t give us carte blanche to do what we like, though, and God or no God, there are still certain things we can generally assume to be morally wrong.
It also brings into question the value of worship and the power of prayer. If this is God, then it strikes me as a rather blind, impersonal God, who is unlikely to listen to my whimpering and pleading for the continued well-being of Matilda, while we are away on holiday. Nor does he/she/it particularly want, or value, my worship, I should think, despite the fact that I am actually quite awe-struck by the concept, so much so that it inspires fear and terror in me if I think about it for long enough. And where does that leave Jesus, and the whole fall-and-redemption cycle. Will someone have to break it to him, when he comes back from his surfing holiday on the Dead Sea, that he is now redundant?
Still, at least it’s got me thinking about all this stuff again, after a long period when I’d decided that I couldn’t be bothered. Quite where it leaves me, apart from up in the air, as usual, is a moot point, though. I think I might be becoming a Quaker without noticing. Quakerism by stealth, now there’s an example of radicalisation I bet none of you spotted.
Time passes incredibly quickly now, though. The older I get, the more it seems to be speeding up.
Like as the waves toward the pebbl’d shore
So do our minutes hasten to their end,
As Shakespeare might have interjected at this point, if he were here right now. So it’s not necessarily a comfort to me to know that consciousness is actually reality, and that consciousness persists. It still doesn’t numb the loss. Two years ago, when we went over in the camper van to collect Misty from the collie dog rescue at Baildon, the party comprised me, Deb, Mike, Zak and Freddie. Now, of that mission, Freddie and Mike are both gone. Who could have foreseen it? This time next week, maybe, though I doubt it, given our usual speed of preparation, I might be sitting at the side of Kilbrannan Sound on the Isle of Arran, looking out for the red can buoy off Carradale Point. Most people’s holidays are enjoyable, and indeed so are mine, but they also involve an increased risk of danger and death (mountain climbing and kayaking) and pet loss (Misty running off while there, Matilda going missing at home) patchy internet connection, and mechanical breakdown. Plus there’s always the chance of falling off my wheelchair while transferring, or developing some exotic condition while far from medical aid. So I look forward to it warily. Whatever, it’s going to be a another, very, busy week next week, so I intend to get my gardening done today, if the rain holds off. Now, in fact, as it’s looking a bit black over Will’s mother’s.
In the meantime, happy trails to you all, and I’ll post as and when I can.