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Glass Still Half Full?

November 20, 2018 8 comments

Having taken part in #NaBloPoMo in 2014 and 2015 I get two reminders in Timehop every day for the posts I wrote back then. In 2015 I re-shared a post originally written on May 5 2103, in response to one of WordPress’ daily prompts. It was titled ‘Glass Half Full?’

The link to WordPress still works, so I’ve left it in for you to see what others thought of their prompt, should you wish. Looking back at what I wrote several years ago, I wouldn’t have said this differently now, although the events of the past two years – in particular the UK referendum and US Presidential election, and their aftermath – do put a slightly more sinister context around my remarks about being bullied into agreeing with people. This is the original post:

 

Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da Life Goes On

Today’s Daily Prompt is the old question “Is the glass half-full or half-empty?” There is of course a third possibility, that it is neither of these:

Blinded by science!

Blinded by science!

but only a pedant such as I would even consider such a thought! Actually, the science of that is beyond me anyway: given that I am blessed with the typical Virgo’s mind – logical, structured, boring – it’s a wonder I was always so bad at science when I was at school. But I was!

I’m rather hoping that the question is intended to be taken philosophically, rather than scientifically. At least that gives me a chance of answering it! The usual interpretation of the two approaches is:

Glass half-full = optimistic, positive

Glass half-empty = pessimistic, negative.

So what? Who’s to say if either of those is right or wrong? Actually, I think there’s a lot to be said for being a pessimist – that way, your expectations are likely at least to be met, if not exceeded, and that should be a cause for happiness  shouldn’t it? So, following that logic (I told you I was like that) I believe this means that pessimists are generally happy people. Now, what was the question again?

Oh yes, whether the glass is half-full or empty. My answer is: it doesn’t matter. Whatever best suits you and your outlook on life is the right answer for you: no one has the right to judge you and tell you which way to think. Look at Twitter, as I do fairly frequently. How often do you see people there telling you that your attitude, approach or beliefs are wrong if you differ from them? That’s a matter of choice, not a reason to be judged. Unfortunately, those who are like that tend to be lacking in self-awareness and unable to debate sensibly – they just want to bully everyone into agreeing with them. So if they tell you what’s in the glass they must be right? Total crap! You have a right to believe what you want, however ‘wrong’ it may be when judged by societal norms. Other people can then choose to agree or disagree with you, to like or dislike you and your beliefs and attitude. The world isn’t about to be knocked off its axis because you have the temerity to disagree with someone or see things differently from them. Anything extreme is likely to be filtered out by the majority view anyway – whatever that is.

So, believe what you want to. Look at the glass whichever way you prefer. It’s your choice, and it’s what helps define you as a person. The answer to the question

Is the glass half-full or half-empty?

has to be:

YES!!

………..

Back to 2018 again, and I expect you can see what I meant about the context that has built up over recent years. The UK referendum result was a surprise to many, including those on the winning side, but I don’t think anyone at that time foresaw how divisive it would prove to be. Voters on both sides are still being offensive towards those who disagree with them, and this is being led from the highest echelons of government down, as the whole thing becomes a farcical mess. Likewise the ‘election’ of Trump, via the crazy and unfair Electoral College system and despite his losing the overall vote by 2.8m. This was also a surprise to many, including the winner, and has also proved to be extremely divisive in what has followed.

One thing both of these events have in common is how we are bullied by those with whom we disagree. As I said in that original post, we have a right to our beliefs, even if they are extreme, and societal norms could be expected to counterbalance any extremism. But it seems that things are changing, and not just in the UK and US. Those two elections somehow gave extremists the belief that they had been legitimised, and there have been many further examples since then: the growth of support for the politically extreme in many European countries, and the recent Brazilian election spring to mind. My comment about the world not being knocked off its axis seems especially optimistic now!

I still believe that we all have the right to view that glass however we wish. I just wish there weren’t so many instances every day of – in particular – politicians telling us what we should believe. The obvious danger in that is that our leaders become authoritarian like Trump and, in her own beleaguered way, Theresa May are. I kind of hedged my bets in the 2013 post: that is becoming ever less possible to do nowadays. I don’t think I’m overstating it in saying that I’m frightened by the way the political world has moved in five years, or that I’m fearful for the future. But the last thing I would want to do is to bully someone into seeing the glass the same way I do: politicians – and quite a lot of others – could do with learning not to do that, too.

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Bonfire Of The Insanities

November 5, 2018 8 comments

On Saturday I reblogged last year’s ##SaturdaySongs post of Bonfire Night songs

As this little rhyme that we all learned in primary school reminds us, this is actually tonight:

Remember, remember

The fifth of November:

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason

Why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

I won’t repeat the potted history lesson here but do take a look if you need to know more: there is also a link in that post to a very detailed Wikipedia article on the Gunpowder Plot. These events took place 413 years ago but there are, sadly, echoes in modern day life: religion as the basis for differences and even violence; a threat to democracy from those who want another form of government and are prepared to go to illegal and destructive ends to attain it. Sound familiar? We don’t learn as much from history as we might like to think, do we?

Democracy cannot be underestimated: there still exist too many tyrannies in the world: well, actually, one is too many. But the majority of those of you who read my ramblings are based in countries which are long used to enjoying democratic freedoms. The US, for example, fought to achieve its independence from a British king and government which treated them abominably, and created the free country that has since thrived. And, after a troubled first thousand years or so of the current calendar, during which it seemed to be open season for anyone wanting to invade us, we in the UK haven’t had any such invasion since 1066, despite the best efforts of the Spanish Armada and Hitler. We have gradually built our democracy since then.

The US midterm elections are tomorrow, and it is the great hope for the rest of the world that they might come to their senses and look back to what their founding fathers fought for and established. They might then realise their mistake in electing as President a man completely inexperienced in politics, who has spent the past two years pushing his agenda of lies, hypocrisy and hatred. But at least he was elected by public ballot, rather than by blowing up the seat of democracy. Well, almost, as he actually lost the public vote by nearly 3m votes, but that is apparently ‘fake news.’ In what is largely a two party system, how is it possible that the loser can actually win the election? That Electoral College system needs to be revisited, as it is way past its ‘best by’ date!

We get a lot of news coverage of Trump’s government here in the UK. Allowing for the filters for bias which may need to be applied, one inescapable fact emerges: Trump and his cowardly Republican Party have lost sight of the true meaning of democracy, and are governing in an autocratic manner. Democracy was worth fighting for, and it is to be hoped that enough people recognise this and exercise their democratic right at the ballot box tomorrow before it is too late. Am I scaremongering? I don’t think so: take a look at both Trump’s and John Bolton’s statements about the recent election in Brazil. They have both spoken in glowing terms of the new Brazilian President: how long before they take the US down the same path he is treading, a very undemocratic path indeed. If they hold onto control of the House and Senate tomorrow, having cheated their way to controlling the Supreme Court, autocracy may be closer than you might think. Add in the copious evidence of corruption and it ceases to be a true democracy, as a dubiously elected President exercises his powers to ignore the Constitution.

And we here in the UK know how well the public ballot can result in a terribly bad decision. It is becoming clearer every day that the Leave campaign broke a lot of rules in their campaign funding, which could well end up with prison sentences for some if the legal process is allowed to take its proper course without further political interference – and that’s even without the lies on which the vote was won. What is also abundantly clear is that there is no actual plan for how an organised withdrawal from the EU might be managed, amid growing public disquiet. A few weekends ago an estimated 750k marched in support of a ‘People’s Vote’ on the final terms of whatever deal is eventually cooked up. This is much more democratic than blowing up the Parliament buildings, though we could be forgiven for thinking that our government needs explosive help to shake them out of their collective torpor, indecision and ineptitude.

I wouldn’t mind betting that there will be quite a few ‘Guys’ tonight who will be wearing images of present day politicians. The Gunpowder Plot was far from being a democratic process, but after all this time it retains its place in our history as a reminder of how we as a country are able to celebrate our freedoms. Generally, we live in less violent times than Fawkes and his co-conspirators, and we have adapted our expressions of democracy since then. Tonight is a timely reminder that governments can be unpopular. The problem comes when the people become complicit in taking away their own democratic freedoms, by believing the lies and false promises of the self-interested. Do we really deserve our democracy if we misuse it? I wish I had an answer to that!

It’s STILL A Hard Life

May 5, 2018 12 comments

Two years ago today I posted a piece which laid out my fears for the way our world was going. This specifically referenced the campaign which was then in full flow towards the UK referendum on membership of the European Union (EU), which took place on 23 June 2016, and the US presidential campaigning, which at that point looked very likely to endorse Donald Trump as the Republican candidate, as indeed happened. Thankfully, election campaigns here only last a month or so, unlike the many months the Americans have to endure – but there’s no guarantee that either of us will come out with a good result, regardless of how long it takes us to get there.

Reading this post again, I was struck by how my worst fears were now coming true. Our referendum became a mass vote of lemmings throwing the country off a cliff, and with only ten months or so until we are due to leave the EU we are nowhere near a conclusion to negotiations or to any coherent vision of the future direction our country will take. Our government has veered ever further to the right, going for what it calls a ‘Hard Brexit’ – in other words, a total split from the EU – with no apparent thought about what the outcomes of this will be. Racists have been empowered by the referendum result and xenophobia is the norm for many. And as for the election of Trump, with all that has brought about, I could go on at length! Here is the post, exactly as I wrote it at the time. I’ll return at the end for a final comment, or several:

“Some weeks ago, when I posted in response to the terrorist bombings in Brussels, I titled my piece after what I had always known, until then, as a Nanci Griffith song, although it was actually written by Julie Gold  – From A Distance. I had been listening to music as I often do, as a lot of truth is spoken in song lyrics and the words of that song resonated with me. One of her own songs also came to mind, and it was a bit of a toss up which one I used to illustrate my post. I chose that one as it made my point for me, and the other song has a wider meaning which I thought I might revisit as a companion piece. Having been kept away from here by illness it has taken me longer than I intended to do this, but this is the other song I had in mind:

Nanci Griffith was born four months before me so, although we have grown up in different countries we have to a degree shared our experience of the world and all its changes. In the song she references growing up in the 60s which, when we look back now, was a tumultuous decade, which in many ways has shaped our lives now: the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of JFK, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Cold War in Europe, student demonstrations, and the massive changes in popular culture. But what have we we learned from all of this? The song’s chorus goes:

‘It’s a hard life, it’s a hard life, it’s a very hard life,

It’s a hard life wherever you go,

But if we poison our children with hatred

then a hard life is all that they’ll know.’

Look around you. What does the news tell us? Have we learnt the lessons of recent history? That song was released in the late 80s, but more than 25 years later it seems to me that we continue to poison our children with hatred. The obvious example of this is Donald Trump, who now looks very likely to be the Republican candidate in the forthcoming US Presidential election. Despite his recent appointment of some spin doctors it is difficult to forget some of the rhetoric he has used during his campaign, and the way that it has demonstrated a position built on racism, bigotry and hatred. As I have said several times before, I fear for the world if he should become President, and hope that doesn’t happen.

But the issue I want to draw to your attention is far greater than just one man, however odious he may be. Next month, we in the UK will be voting in a referendum to decide whether we remain a member of the European Union. In recent years the main (only) political party of any note to espouse this cause has been the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which, by the actions of its members and its beer swilling, chain smoking leader, has largely come across as a bunch of racist buffoons. But here we are, in the midst of a campaign which seems to become nastier by the day, and in which much of the language used seems to be based on bigotry and hatred, of Little Englander perspectives. And we have always had our far right parties, going back to Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts in the 1930s, via the National Front and British National Party in  more recent times. Another current incarnation is Britain First, which was started by someone who was thrown out of the BNP for being too extreme (!) and which makes UKIP look like a credible political organisation.

And this isn’t confined to the UK, either. All over Europe there are similar political parties and movements. France has long had the Le Pen family leading the Front Nationale. Italy has the Northern League, which is anti-immigration. Germany has the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) which began life as an economic movement but has jumped on the racist angle and is getting huge increases in public support as a result. Similar groupings exist in Spain and Austria, amongst others. Flip the coin and you have ISIS, or Daesh, or whatever we are supposed to call it. Then there was Al Qaeda. And in North Africa there is the Boko Haram group, amongst others. Everywhere you look you see organisations based on hatred, and the worrying thing is that they are generating huge amounts of support.

What are we doing to ourselves? Not content with destroying the planet, we appear to be trying to solve that problem by destroying ourselves from within first. In the song, Nanci Griffith references the KKK and the racial hatred for which it stands. Her song was inspired by a taxi trip around Belfast, which at that time was still a city divided by religious and political terrorism. Towards the end she mentions that she ‘can’t drive on the left side of the road.’ For the uninitiated, we in the UK drive on the left-hand side of the road, although most of the world does it the other way. Her choice of metaphor is very apt: it is about time that we all started to learn to drive on the other side of the road. We have poisoned our children with hatred for far too long.”

And back to today:

Sadly, Nanci Griffiths’ words are possibly even more pertinent now. The song and video were released in 1989, and still bring a tear to my eye. The video was made in Northern Ireland, which at that time was still subject to terrorist atrocities. Those have largely ceased now, thanks to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Yet we don’t seem to be learning from history, do we: the UK government appears totally clueless about how to solve the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and there is, I think, a potential danger that the peace could unravel. This hasn’t been helped by the electoral battering the Conservatives took last year, when hubris and arrogance cost them their overall majority in Parliament, leaving them dependent on a bribed fix with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Never has the word ‘democratic’ been more misused.

In the US, Trump duly won his way to the Presidency, and appears to be engaged on taking America back to the 1930s, with protectionist policies that ignore the progress that has been made, in social, cultural  and technological terms, since the end of WW2. I described Trump in my previous piece as ‘odious’ and I stand by that. Every day it seems we get yet another example of his, and his government’s ignorance, racism, misogyny, homophobia, hypocrisy and xenophobia. Today’s news contains reports of his speech yesterday at the NRA convention, in which he mocked London and Paris for their lack of guns. Seriously, Mr President? You need to take a much closer look at your own country, and not pander to the money of the organisation responsible for making the machines that kill people. I said in the original piece that I feared for the world if he became President, and I still do. It may be cynical, but I do wonder if he isn’t being played by North Korea, who recognise his naivety and egotism. I hope I’ll be proved wrong, but I’m not convinced that this apparent ‘peace process’ will end well. And as for Trump being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize – the man is a coward and a bully, and would demean the honour.

It would be easy to abandon hope, and I’ll admit to being worried about the world we are bequeathing to future generations. But therein lies the real hope for the future. Nanci Griffiths’ video focuses on children: as she says, we need to stop poisoning them with hatred, and allow them to shape a future world which is based on human values like love and compassion. In the US, the National School Walkout campaign – a direct response to the Parklands atrocity, which took 17 lives – demonstrates vividly the lack of moral courage on the part of political leaders to do something which is long overdue. These young people are our future leaders, and it is to be hoped that they succeed where others have failed. If they don’t, then

‘a hard life is all that they’ll know.’

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