Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Unsent letters to editors (no.1945) : The Guardian doesn't get it

Dear Editor,
your luke warm, "two cheers" response to the TUC protest which is so evident in today's (28.3.11)Guardian editorial "After the March" as well as in the copy of your reporters and commentators, demonstrates that like the rest of the relatively wealthy, chattering classes, which you now seem to represent, the Guardian newspaper just does not get what is happening to people in the UK. The not so wealthy, the getting poorer, the poor, the soon to be unemployed, the unemployed, children, young people, disabled people, ill people and retired people are genuinely and justifiably fearful about their future,
At the same time your newspaper in its superficially balanced editorials tries to rationalise its decision to advise it readers to vote for the Liberal Democrats in the last general election. I am sad to say I was persuaded by your advice. Like the majority of people in this country I did not vote for a coalition government to carry out a vicious and vindictive assault on the services to fellow citizens in this country - real palpable suffering individuals - who do not have very much. If what has happened since last May is democracy, then democracy stinks.
I am not a member of a trade union but I would like to thank the TUC for organising Saturday's impressive and moving event and I still hope that the Guardian as well as the rest of the media will respond to Saturday's protest as sympathetically and as doggedly as it has done recently for protests in other countries.
Yours faithfully,
Charles Sharpe

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Anarchy is OK

Our media seems to think that an anarchist is anyone who, when in attendance at an event which has previously been announced as a peaceful protest march or rally, is : throwing stones or cans of paint,setting off flares, wielding sticks, wearing masks and damaging property.
Let's put the record straight. A true anarchist is far more likely to be a pacifist than a terrorist. Anarchists might not even care to join a protest event but if they did they would almost certainly be peaceful and quiet. An anarchist believes that we can all get along quite peacefully as a community without the undue influence of political figures who gain power through ownership of property. Now some might think that this is an unrealistic ideal and against human nature as they understand it but creating an anarchic community is intended to be a morally good aspiration.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Born in the DRI

Born in the DRI, Eh wus born in the DRI

On October 1st back in forty fev
Eh fell fae Ma-ie's womb n' cam oot alev

Eh wus born in the DRI, born in the DRI

Eh lived in Lochee, went tae Liff Road Schale
got the dux medal but Eh wus gonnae fail

Cos eh wus born in the DRI, a red hot baby fae the DRI

In '57 Pa took us tae Coventry
naebody unnerstood me n' Eh lost meh way

Cos Eh was born in the DRI
Eh wus a red hot baby fae the DRI

Eh, born in the DRI, born in the DRI

Dundee Royal Infirmary 1798 to 1998

Thursday, 17 March 2011

To Have and Have Not : more thoughts about poverty and wealth

It's difficult to know what to do about poverty. For me there is something morally wrong about believing it can be right for one person to earn, say, ten times more than another person.

In the capitalist system which imbues and it seems subsumes our lives, those who take and have the power - financial, cultural, social, political and military power - directly or indirectly award themselves inordinate material wealth and pay inordinately little to those whose labour provides  them with their wealth.

It might be said that if such a state of affairs is morally repugnant, our thoughts should lead to setting up and putting into practice a pure form of socialism where all have an equal share in the material wealth. Yet previous attempts to create socialist communities have invariably failed because those who have taken on political or leadership roles in these communities could not resist the descent towards the accumulation of more and more material wealth as well as more political power. There is, it seems, an inevitability towards a retreat to a "have and have not" community.

It may be asked, "Shouldn't democracy sort out all this fiscal inequality?"
Well the evidence is clear for all to see. It hasn't so far. There may still remain starry-eyed idealists - and I'm one - who still harbour thoughts that the right kind of democracy might deliver a human global community free of poverty. If so we need to find it because our current models of democracy don't address the issue of poverty with any sense
of there being a determined commitment to end the abject deprivation many of our fellow human beings suffer.

Capitalists say that attempts to institute socialism have failed because people who are educated and who learn more sophisticated skills want to earn more than those who have not learnt skills and more than those who they judge as less skilled. This argument also demands that those who take on more "responsibility" will only do so if they are rewarded for it but surely for all fair-minded people these unwritten laws should only be exercised between reasonable limits.

A difficulty which persists in freeing others from poverty is that we seem impelled to acquire material wealth and power in order to ensure our own survival and the survival of our children. In a world where we can see the debilitating consequences that poverty has for others our primitive evolutionary fears may result in us taking more than our own share. At the same time however, human beings have persuaded themselves that they are rational organisms who have also strived to develop codes of morality which insist on fair treatment for everyone. Our religions and our social cultures underpin the moral demand that we should take a care for each other and yet it appears that as capitialism and its concomitant and predominant financial and military power increase their tight grip on our human community,the hoped for essential goodness of our human community is squeezed out. It may be argued that this tendency has been accelerated by new channels of communication which in their tendency to take us away from being in the physical presence of each other, have led us to lose our emotional and physical sensitivity,to become increasingly narcissistic,to strive to be ahead of others and to adopt the attitude,"the de'il tak the hindmost."

It has also been suggested that these new channels of communication can be seen as the most democratic development since human communities were first formed. Their capacity to allow the rapid expression of mass opinion has influenced governments to change policy much more swiftly than the threat of the ballot box and indeed they have in some countires directly led to the downfall of oppressive regimes. If this kind of mass expression can be persuaded to direct its interest towards ending poverty, what might be achieved?

But here is the rub. In recent times even the power of mass expression through the internet and over the mobile 'phone has failed to achieve the wishes of the majority in the face of military power and personal wealth. This is currently the case in Libya where the holding of the oil wealth by a very few, finances military power which may, the way things are, prevail over any burgeoning of democracy. In the case of Bahrain the people's cry for true democracy and regime change are ignored by the Bahraini governing royal family and its militarily powerful Saudi Arabian cousins because they do not wish to share their immense wealth and they have the military punch to make sure they don't need to. These autocrats are also bolstered by hypocritical western "democratic" governments like those of the United Kingdom and the United States of America who fear any disturbance in the area will threaten their short-term to medium term need for oil. What really lies behind this hypocrisy is the selfish determination of a world wide wealthy minority to keep its hold on wealth and power. If this power dynamic remains what hope is there for those people whose poverty disenfranchises them from the hope of a life worth living. What hope for their children ?

It's difficult to know how we can end poverty but I still think we should try.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Dundee Football Club has yet another "famous eleven"

Last weekend I emerged frae my Devon midden in auld Angleterre and took a wee jaunt up Scotland way tae Dundee. I arrived in the rain,sleet and snow at Tay Bridge station, strode up to the Nethergate and then strolled along to, and through, the Wellgate and puffing and panting climbed the steps and managed to struggle up the Hilltoon until I arrived at Dens Park to watch Dundee Football Club defeat Queen of the South 2-1 and break a club record,which until Saturday had been the property of the greatest of all Dundee sides,the 1961-2 team. The new famous eleven took the record by remaining undefeated in the league for 20 games. This current side is neither metaphorically nor literally in the same league as the great 1961-2 side whom many well respected opinions still describe as the most stylishly accomplished club team the UK has ever produced. However this current side have had to play at the same time as going through all the insecurities involved in being employed by a football club which is in administration. They have seen a good number of their fellow players being made redundant. There are now only about 14 or 15 players in the first team squad because the financial and regulatory restrictions administration puts upon a club, do not allow it to sign new players. The quietly impressive manager, Barry Smith,doesn't often use substitutes during a match - he used only the starting eleven on Saturday - because of the limited resources available to him, but this means the players, who make up quite a skilled group, all know each other very well and work hard together. If the club had not been deducted 25 league points as a consequence of administration, the team would now be well ahead at the top of the league preparing for promotion to the Scottish Premier League. Instead they are now in a heroic struggle to avoid relegation to a lower league. No wonder then that at the end of last weekend's victory Dens Park was rocking and we were also singing "Naa naa naa nana naa nana naa naa Du- undee" to the tune of Hey Jude !

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Votes for prisoners : the meaning of prison and its influence on the wellbeing of politicians

There was a time when there was a debate as to what made individual human beings turn out the way they had. Was the cause genetic or environmental ? Was the influencing factor nature or nurture ? Well nowadays, psychologists and neuroscientists seem to agree that both elements go along in tandem. The same kind of "either/or" debate has also long been carried out about the meaning and purpose of prison. Should prison be a punishment or a process of rehabilitation ? Some might take the view that the analogy with the synergy of nature and nurture does not hold. They would argue that we can punish without rehabilitation. Yet, just as nature unmollified by environmental factors leads to unhealthy personal development, is it at all healthy for a society if punishment is not accompanied by a process of rehabilitation ? What kind of society would lock someone up and do nothing until a prisoner's sentence came to an end ?
In trying to answer this question we should perhaps accept that in the first instance prison is a method used by our society to punish a wrongdoer. Whether this punishment or indeed any kind of punishment is an effective way of dealing with wrongdoing is another debate.
We should also acknowledge that a punishment may give some comfort to victims of crime and to their relatives, though this may not be universally so.
We can be sure prison is a punishment. Just think of how it would feel to be kept in a place where you cannot live with the people you love, cannot do the simple things like take a walk in the town or in the country, go to meet the people you want to meet. On the other hand imagine what would have happened to your inner self if you had spent so much time in a prison that living there carried less threat to you than the thought of being free? Do we need to punish a prisoner more ? Should we only give them an experience of punishment and if we do what kind of person will come out when his or her sentence is over ?
It should not be considered extreme to suggest that prisoners need the right kind of nurture : being encouraged not only to respect others but also to respect themselves. This can be done by giving them dignity.
Prison should give its occupants a feeling that life is worthwhile and that in accepting their sentence - that is their loss of liberty - they are being punished enough. Opportunities should be provided to help them grow as human beings. They should have a chance to study, to work productively, and be given opportunities to feel that they have not been abandoned and that they do have a part to play in the community that all humans share, no matter what their predicament. This includes the right to vote. It is extremely worrying that our political leaders, for, one imagines, populist reasons fed by what is most base in our nature, are aghast at the notion of allowing prisoners the right to vote, to the extent that they feel physically sick just thinking about it, or even more timidly they equivocate and say, "Well yes, maybe we can allow these ones to vote, but not those."

The right to vote should be given to all prisoners. It would be the action of a civilised society. One which does not condone criminal action or leave it unpunished, but one which demonstrates the lengths it will go to ensure that the generous action is predominant over the selfish one. In the generous action may be seen the seed of rehabilitation for prisoners and hope for us all.