Posted by: Martin Scherer | 03/07/2011

Happy Independence Day

Americans have some wonderful national holidays. Unlike this-side of-the-pond, where we celebrate Gods, kings and dead Saints, Americans celebrate living values that are the foundations of their success. Independence Day is one.

I searched for an appropriate cartoon but failed, so please envisage the characters

Tea Merchant: “You can’t put tax on tea. They will find something else to drink, like coffee.”

King: I need money to pay for troops to keep the French out of the America colonies or you won’t be selling any tea, they will be drinking French wine.

Diplomat: But if you put taxes up, the colonists will want independence from all taxes.

And so they did. Taking Independence, the American people were free to decide if they were predominantly French, British or German. There is a strong American belief, that had the Founding Fathers voted, then German would be the official language of the independent United States of America.

That would have changed the outcome of the 1st and 2nd world wars. The Beatles would have stayed in Hamburg, singing Der Fuhrer leibt dich in place of All You Need is Love). The internet would be in German. Southern US States today would be struggling to understand Spanman rather than Spanglish. (Spanish-English, Spanish-German.)

As a radical independent, I am an absolute believer in independence. Independence means the freedom to determining one’s own destiny. That also means being free of the burden of others. Just think how prosperous London would be today, if it was a capital state like Singapore or Hong Kong. No taxes to pay for the Irish troubles, subsidise the Welsh or Scottish economies or even the poorer areas of the north and southwest. Thank God southern Ireland got independence, or today the UK would be in even deeper financial hole.

As an Englishman, I raise my glass to independence and look forward to the forthcoming independence of Scotland. Once the Welsh and Scots are independent they will soon change their tune towards English buying holiday homes. They will be inviting us in with our tourist dollars.

How dare I say that? I can hear the moral outrage. Don’t I understand that independence is only for the underdog? No its not. Independence is for all. Rich nations and daddies wishing to be independent of the burdens of family, nation and all those who don’t work hard to be independent. The English are paying to keep Protestants and Catholics from fighting like unruly teenagers. The English are subsiding Welsh Schools and yet all the evidence shows that Welsh schools are failing. The English subsidise Welsh and Scottish Universities, yet they charge English students the full wack. If the Welsh and Scottish think they’ve got it right for their people, fine, go ahead, but don’t ask me to pay for their experiments.

How dare I? I can hear the moral outrage of those who do not value the freedom that comes from independence.

A great many Americans would also protest, ‘You can’t say that!” America had a civil war to stop the Southern States going independent. Just think if the South had won. Slavery and prejudice would have lasted a bit longer, but that would have ended before now. No-one wants to be a pariah state. That’s what ended apartheid. Not a war.

Today the USA would be several different nations. California, the eastern seaboard, Ari-Texas, Southern States, Great Planes and Florida, or something like that, Canada would probably be three different nations, one speaking only French. Alaska would still be part of Russia. The USA would never have had the wealth to fight a war in Vietnam or Iraq. Europe would be German and China dominated by the Japanese. Such are the accidents of history.

Today Americans thank God for their independence from English Kings, yet their President, beats a path to rub shoulders with the current English Monarch. History leads us on strange twists and turns.

The fact is that we are all inter-dependent. However that inter dependence does not mean we should accept being dependent on others. Dependence on others is not a choice. It is the forever anxiety that no-one will put a penny in our cap. Whether we strive to be bankers earning megabucks or build a shack and live in a wood like Thoreau, that is our choice.

With megabucks in my pocket I live forever with the anxiety that someone will want to take it from me. I know which choice I now want to take. Build the shack in the wood.

On this Independence Day, I raise a glass of root beer to the values that make me a contented man.

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Posted by: Martin Scherer | 04/06/2011

Sarasota – Terrible poverty and the meanest city on earth?

Sarasota – Terrible poverty and the meanest city of earth?

I am very disappointed to find the Economist, a news journal I respect, use such exaggerated and inaccurate headlines.

The Economist is a British based journal that rightly claims to present an international, liberal voice, on economic issues. I am a Brit, who lives in Sarasota through the winter months. On this issue, the Economist does not speak for me.

Sarasotans are not the meanest people on earth. In my experience, they are amongst the most generous, giving of their time, skills, goods, and even money to help the disadvantaged of their city. They even ask me, a tourist, to help!

Please, show me the ‘terrible’ poverty of Sarasota. In ten years of visits, I’ve not seen ‘terrible’ poverty. I know of homeless people sleeping amongst the trees of undeveloped lots in residential neighbourhoods. Is that such a ‘terrible’ hardship? I visit Sarasota because its winter’s days are warmer and dryer than British summer days and it’s a delight to sleep out amongst the trees on a summer night. I know such behaviour causes anxieties to local residents, but heck, if they keep themselves to themselves and clean up after – what’s the harm?

I am well aware of the homeless and addicts who hang about the library and on the adjacent park bench. Not a good sight to thrust under the noses of tourists, whose visits create the jobs these people might take. Please show me the ‘terrible’ poverty of Sarasota and I’ll show you the streets of London on a really cold winters night, that will make you change your mind.

Those benches were provided by the taxpayers of Sarasota for those who want to sit in the centre of the city enjoying the passing presence of others. Especially, the disabled and elderly who have the greatest need. Please tell me, who is defending their rights?

Why do the homeless and addicts hang around Sarasota’s ‘central park’ and its library? There are dozens of other places they could hang about. The library and park are the best places to make a silent protest and beg.

Begging can be very lucrative. There is one guy, dressed as a vet, with no legs, on a trolley. I’ve watched him. When his day is finished, he wheels himself around the corner to his gleaming 4 track. Good luck to him. If he made that sacrifice for his country, he deserves every penny he gets. Every penny I give him, makes me feel better. So why not give the homeless and addicts a banjo and tell them to cheer-up, and cheer us up. That is what Sarasotan’s do. They help people who help themselves.

In contrast, the UK government puts its hand in our pockets and takes the money. We never know where that money is going or how efficiently it is used. If that is a more effective system, please tell me why there are proportionately more dependent people in the UK than the USA. Feeding dependency destroys self-respect and creates dependency, helplessness, and addiction. Those who shout loudest for state provision, are often those who want the comfortable secure jobs of handing out that provision. Above all, The Economist must know that.

Sarasotans are not mean. Florida is a paradise in which to be homeless. There is no terrible poverty in Sarasota. Those who shout such falsehoods to the press are at risk of deterring visitors and thereby increasing the probability of poverty in Sarasota. On this issue, The Economist should get itself out of the gutter, or risk damaging its reputation.

Posted by: Martin Scherer | 31/05/2011

Why do women cry at weddings

Watching The Royal Wedding in a half-crowded working class bar, I witnessed the curious phenomenon of women crying. Why? A wedding is a joyous public celebration of two people’s love and forever commitment to each other. Why cry?

A ‘Man from Mars’ would dismiss the inexplicable behaviour of alien ‘Women from Venus’, but I’ve never accepted that nonsense. I’m curious and being a social scientist, I have a right to be. As the moment for ‘I do’ approached, crass calls came from some guys at the bar, “Go for it Willy’, or ‘Run Willy, run’. Women retorted ‘Shss’. The climax built like a romantic film. Was Kate or William about to run out of the church? Women’s attention was not on Kate but Prince William. Would he / wouldn’t he?

When William said “I do.”, one women shed a tear, which turned to a flood, quickly comforted by female friends. That tear spread like a flu virus to three or four other women, each comforted by understanding women. Men turned back to bar.

I watched on. A couple of guys stood looking doubtful. Should he put his big strong arm about the woman crying? Isn’t there a man in this house who can comfort the woman? An older comforter sent a clear eye message – “Don’t dare think of it, you bastard.”

What had that guy done? Why was I caught it in the warning? Are all men tainted by some original sin that they cannot comfort a woman at such times? Half an hour before I’d been flirting with one of those tearful women.

In the days that followed, I asked several women. None admitted they cried or even shed a tear. They all knew someone who did, but none wanted to talk about it. Delving into blogs “Did you watch the Royal Wedding” shed no light on the issue. Except curiously, some women reporting the Royal Wedding made them sick and they did not watch a second of it. Why? A national spectacle, a national celebration, one couple declaring love their love, if that’s what some people want to do, what’s the problem?

Every ten years or so, The West seems to need a national wedding celebration. If royalty or celebrities don’t provide, the film will industry will. Three Weddings with a Funeral thrown in for good contrast. If that is not enough, read a good Mills & Boon novella. A recent BBC romance novel documentary showed Mills and Boon readers. Most readers were in the throws of divorce, just divorced, in affairs or, dreaming of affairs or the perfect love. Then there are the broken-heart-mended films of go find yourself after a break up, such as Eat, Pray, and Love. |The film contains the line, “We cry at weddings because it reminds us of ourselves.”

So is that what these tears are about? Women crying for love lost, a dream dashed on the rocks of life, or a love never achieved? More than half the women of the land endure divorce, never find the love of their lives or live in second best marriages, and can’t understand why it happened to them. How tragic.

For a start, anyone with their eyes open knows a marriage has a fifty-fifty chance. With that failure rate, you might as well plan for the day it does. Understanding what might cause a break-up may increase the chances it won’t.

Where do so many women get the unquestioning belief the marriage love all going to be roses? OK, may not be cloud nine, maybe struggling to farm the outback, living in the Bronx, or suburbia and nine to five job, but love would still be roses. To understand such unquestioned beliefs, you’ve got to go a long way back.

Jesuits say, or was it the Catholic St Francis or the Greek Aristotle, whoever – “Give me new born child for seven years and I’ll give you the man.” Or woman, we should add. It’s a universal truism yet we don’t seem to understand it or act on its wisdom. Instead, we insist children should be allowed to play for the first seven years of their lives. Nevertheless, we tell them tales of life, – the Big Bad Wolf, Jack and the Beanstalk, Goldilocks and Cinderella.

One of my first memories was being taken to see Cinderella. Surrounded by a gaggle of sisters, I looked at my sisters wondering which would grow up to be Cinderella and which the Ugly Sisters. I had my own idea. It turned out right. She did become the Cinderella in the family. I did not see myself as Prince Charming, because I had the sisters so I must be Buttons. The understanding, loyal, serving boy. We grew up to serve women and understand a Prince may one day turn their heads.

These fairy tales become the prescriptions for our lives. They warn us not to build houses that can be blown down in huffs and puffs, or be so vain to be as stupid as the Emperor with new clothes. They raised us to take risks on planting beans to find a fortune and they tell so many little girls, the love of marriage is a bed of roses. It’s an apt analogy roses, for when the flower of love has died, all you have is a bed of thorns.

The function of national weddings is to remind us of vows that have served mankind for centuries and the threat of god or society’s damnation if we don’t. If we understand the vows, it is not two people, so physically beautiful that everyone can love and be reminded of their love. It’s not the public commitment of support in ‘let any man come forth…, or for every hold his peace. It’s not in the personal commitment ‘I do’. It lies in what they know they must do.

In his sermon to the Royal couple, and everyone who listened, The Bishop of London told us what.

Be who God wanted you to be and you will set the world on fire.

How?

A marriage is intended to be the way in which man and woman help each other what God meant one to be.

How?

Husband and wife are to give themselves to each other. It is of course very hard to wean ourselves away from self-centeredness, but in marriage, we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life. A solemn decision that, whatever the difficulties, we are committed to the way of generous love.

When feminists freed women from the oppression of male domination, they burnt thier bras but they didn’t burn thier fairy tales. Their daughters geeww to watch MTV for a lesson on how ot get your man. A world filled by Prince Charmings. If they don’t get theirs, or they loose the one they had, they shed a tear for their loss at weddings. Most men know, its not what you get it’s what you make. It takes two to make a marriage.

A decade ago, sat in a Rome restaurant feeling a bit of a gooseberry with a number of couples from around the world in various stages of their relationships. For nearly all, I felt a sense of foreboding. At one end sat an elderly couple in apparent contentment. No doubt they had played their games, probably been divorced, and remarried. Not the kind of thing discussed in polite conversation between acquaintances. They had every different careers, which they had adapted so they could be together. Then the host congratulated them on their Diamond Jubilee.

I did not expect a marriage that had survived the free love 60’s, swinging 70’s, career busting 80’s, austere 90’s, and greedy noughties. Decades that had tested and destroyed half the marriages of half the people around them.

Walking out saying goodbyes to people I’d never see again, I asked of the elderly wife, “What is the secret of your marriage?”

The couple looked at each other, and then answered, “To be as enthusiastic and supportive of your partner’s interest in life, as you are in your own.”

If they can do that for each bother, why should they ever have eyes for another?

Posted by: Martin Scherer | 29/05/2011

Soccer – commercialisation is killing the world’s game

The world’s biggest soccer club, Manchester United lost to Barcelona. This is the beginning of the end for the world’s top soccer club. Why? The answer lies in the numbers.

700 million watched the last World Cup. 160 million watched Saturday’s European Cup at London’s Wembley Stadium. With such audience figures, it’s not surprising soccer stars cost up-wards of £100 million, ($166m). Many argue that player costs are bankrupting the game. However this trend started in US sports over thirty years ago.

When Britain was the great Empire, it invented then exported its sports. The US adapted and commercialised some British sports: Rugby (American football), Netball (Basket ball), rounders (Base ball) and hockey (Ice hockey). Games were adapted to suite TV advertising. However the cost of US sports prohibited their import by other countries. More people and countries play the remaining British sports – rugby, football (Soccer) and cricket, than any American sport and the numbers are growing. Unlike British, then American, film and TV, it became obvious, American sports were never going to colonise the world. Eventually, American sports will wane in favour of international sports. American sports entrepreneurs started buying into British sports. The most lucrative is soccer.

The world’s top soccer league is the British Premier Division, where the world’s players and managers long to be. The top Spanish league is a pale comparison, dominated by a few major clubs: Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The majority of top club players are not Spanish or British. They come from around the world, often third world countries where kids grow up playing street soccer, barefoot and without a proper ball.

In comparison, British kids sit in compulsory education. A socialist education that during the 1960’s insisted on equality and became adverse to competitive sports. The result is the failure of England to win a World Cup since 1966.

The top soccer brand is Manchester United that has dominated British soccer for a decade or more. Manchester United has the world’s top football manager, Alex Ferguson. However, Manchester United is American owned and saddled with debt. The mighty Liverpool were in a similar position, American owned, saddled with debt and about to fall out of the British Premier League. American money ballooned the cost of players and not Americans are finding themselves priced out of the race.

Russian oligarchs or Arab sheiks own the other top British clubs – Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal. Only the super rich can afford to assemble the top teams. Unless Manchester United gain a new owner, there must be concern it is about to loose its crown as the world’s top soccer club.

Britain remains the home of soccer, but most of its players, managers, and clubs, are no longer British. Black and South American players have become common, but a Chinese (Asian) player is unusual in a British soccer team.

With the commercialisation of sport comes corruption and gutter press. The UK endured a major constitutional crises last week, in which a British politician used parliamentary privileged to flout a court ruling. With such fortunes sloshing about, it may not be surprising the case surrounded a British soccer star. The British press pay less attention to the law than they do to the kiss and tell sluts of soccer stars. Meanwhile the world’s soccer governing body, FIFA, is riddled in corruption.

This is yet another case where greed rules at the expense of fair play and professional ethics. Gordon Gecko lives on in many disguises.

Posted by: Martin Scherer | 18/05/2011

Oh dear what can the matter be? A Frenchman in a NY jail

This one has rattled around Europe like an indignant woman. How could the US put the President of the International Monetary Fund, a future President of France, in the dock handcuffed like a desperate criminal?  With Mc Donald’s and Cokes everywhere, we may think the West is all much the same today, but this one is a real culture clash.

In the US, you can look but not touch. And you must not look leeringly. Women can walk about ridiculous platform heals, that make their bums stick out on endless luscious legs, but men must bite their tongues, cross their legs and go have a cold shower. What I’ve never understood is why women dress like that at work, but the moment they are home to their husbands they kick off their heals, wipe off the war paint and put on jim-jams.

It’s got like that in the UK. No longer do building site workers whistle as passing office girls. A labourer could get sacked, entrapped by ‘une agent provocateur’. How does a woman know men find her attractive unless some guy makes a pass? In France, it is compulsory. If you don’t flirt a little, a woman might slap your face for ignoring her. Apparently, the IMF President is a master flirt.

Of course, there are lines you do not cross. Every Frenchman knows when a woman says ‘No’ she means ‘NO’. None of this silly Anglo-Saxon game were no may mean yes. A peck on the cheek, maybe a light kiss, but after that, you’d better be invited.

A British female friend once told me after a formal gathering with wine that a good friend of mine had come on heavy rubbing himself on her. Now that crosses a line to me but clearly he did not think so. Who was supposed to teach him? Me or her? Should I come riding to the rescue leading to a fight? Or should she kick him in the crutch and pour her wine over his head? Everyone present would have known exactly why she did it and admired her all the more for teaching the guy a lesson. By not protesting in public, she left herself open to him following her home. That is the difference with French women. They will teach a guy a lesson and if they want to go further, that is their choice. France is not 1950’s office America.

Astounded by the scene, the French are dreaming up all minds of conspiracy theories. The most obvious – NY is teaching France a lesson for not jumping to the Iraq war on terrorism. From within France – It was a honey trap set up by the existing French President to get rid of his competitor. Neither are true. The truth lies in the difference of US and French legal procedures. The UK sits somewhere in the middle.

An arrest in the US is the start of a dehumising, humiliating, punishment. He might be a 70 year old, unlikely to run when accompanied by two cops bearing arms, but he still has to have his hands cuffed behind his back. Why? Has this got anything to do with TV? The cops get ten minutes of fame and just to prove it they have such a desperate criminal he is unshaven in handcuffs. And on it goes. Why not put the guy on house arrest? Because it’s not so newsworthy? The picture of that IMF President has appeared on every newspaper and news TV around the world. If it is a conspiracy, it is a media conspiracy.

In France, they would never do such a thing. A man or woman is presumed innocent until the court find otherwise. The same assumption is made in the UK but we have a US style paparazzi. So suspects are allowed to cover their heads when exposed to the public. Telling the world exactly what he is accused of doing in all its gory detail before the case has opened? Such exposure of suspects before judgment risks perversion of justice. It is the bedrock of western law. That is not my opinion, that is the view of every American lawyer interviewed for European TV.

In the same day’s UK news was a ten-minute fame girl, who had met a big star footballer. Later she told him, she needed £50,000. He sent her a sign soccer shirt. She replied she now needed £100,000, or she would have to tell her story to the press. The soccer star brought an injunction to stop the press reporting anything. The newspaper went to court to lift the injunction. The judge said, “This sounds like blackmail.”

No American press can be gagged. Absolute Freedom of Speech is carved into the stone of the US Constitution. But what about the right of privacy embodied in universal Human Rights law? What about the right to protection from false accusation? In the US, the only protection is 24/7 CCTV surveillance.

If the IMF President is proven guilty, he is a very silly old man and deserves what he gets. But whatever he did, the US media promotion is leaving a dirty taste in the mouths of Europeans. If he is found innocent, that is all that will be left. The message will be simple, ‘Do not go to the USA, you could get accused and found guilty before you have a chance to prove your innocence.’ That would be bad news for everyone.

Posted by: Martin Scherer | 17/05/2011

Bottle return deposit – Another crazy old regulation?

A good friend, Ruth, tells me Michigan has a law putting a return deposit on every bottle. Isn’t that wonderful? Do other states do that?

On the UK side of the pond, I get sick of walking down the road past all the coke cans people leave on the pavement and in windows. I know each of those cans is aluminium and have a value. Do people collect them to make a bob or two?

In the states they do. You see people with bikes and large plastic bags on their handlebars filling with coke cans. That would not happen in the UK. They don’t need to, they get state benefits and those state benefits deny them the learning they can do something to improve their own lives. Even if it’s only collect some cans to make a buck. When I was a kid, and now I sound like my dad, it was a real thrill to find a returnable bottle.

I became so good at it, I searched everywhere. Around the back of hotels, out with rubbish, I found glass soda siphons. They had five shillings return on each! That was in days before I started work at two pounds and five shillings a week. I was earning a fortune until one day a guy from a truck asked what I was doing? Those were his empties to collect!  Opps.

It gets worse. At seventeen, I was a milkman. Hundreds of bottles. Yes, we’ve all heard stories about milkmen, largely a myth, and certainly not this one. Instead of walking down the path to the pavement and back up the next path, I took short-cuts nipping through the hedge or over the fence.

I ran the whole delivery route. One day, running, I jumped a wall. Three bottles in one hand and two in the other, my foot caught the wall, throwing me to the floor. The bottles of the left hand smashed on the path and my hand slid straight into broken glass. Blood everywhere, the neighbours got a doctor who started to bandaged my before the ambulance to took me for emergency surgery. As the Doc started wrapping I said, “Hang on, there is a piece of glass in there.” I could see it between the bones. I turned my hand and pulled it out.

Printed on the glass it said, “This bottle cost four pence, please return.’

Years ago, when employing labourers, some went tip picking when I didn’t have work for them. Yes, you have the third world poverty image of rubbish tip pickers, but these were men and said they often earned more in half a day picking than a day labouring. They collected all the scrap copper and aluminium. One specialised in just plastic. They were recycling before it was fashionable. Until the Council banned tip picking on Health and Safety grounds!

At one job I had, I took a short-cut access a wasteland field. Every morning in holes in that field, were guys digging. What for?  It was an 1800’s rubbish tip and out of those holes, they brought all kinds of antique bottles. The rubbish tips of today are the archaeological sites of tomorrow. Archaeologists get very excited when they find a rubbish tip. Then they can dig up the rubbish bones to see what the people of the time ate.

An American neighbour of mine had double knee surgery and lost his job. What did he do? Sit at home feeling sorry for himself and get fat? He could have, his wife was an accountant.

No. He was up early to collect all the wire he could from neighbour’s rubbish. Then he sat in his garage, striping off the rubber to get the copper. High quality copper. He got his legs back into use quicker, he kept slim, retained his self-respect, and soon got another job. I really admired that guy.

You can’t do that in the UK. That’s creeping regulation for you, big brother government, and social care from the cradle to the grave. It makes people dumb, frighten and dependent.

Not all regualtions are crazy. I raise my glass to Minnesota. If I am every on my last luck, I know somewhere I can earn a bob or two.

Posted by: Martin Scherer | 16/05/2011

Irish Bomb Threat to London

Today the IRA issued a coded bomb threat for London. No time or place is given, just somewhere in central London, sometime today. I e-mailed
my daughter, “Take care on the way home today. Don’t take the tube.”

Give into terrorists and you get more terrorists. The young IRA terrorists of today look up to their predecessors. Convicted , Martin McGuinness
is today the Deputy Leader of the Northern Ireland Assembly.  On a wonderful salary, expenses paid, chauffeur driven, and often on TV.  “That’s
the way you do it, money for nothing, and the chicks are free.” So much for the Blair – Clinton peace plan.

The threat comes on the eve of the Queen’s State Visit to Ireland.

Now what were we saying about shooting Bin Laden? Follow the Irish Peace plan and Bin Laden would be Leader of the Assembly of Northern
Pakistan.

Posted by: Martin Scherer | 09/05/2011

A busted voting system

The British went voting last week. American and British voting systems and attitudes are very similar. They have much the same failings.  Both have systems born in a different century or three. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Because it is broke!

Today both parties want power at any cost and whether they are the best to lead or not. That is how the last British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, behaved. An abject failure who threw money to buy votes. G.W.Bush went to war to stay elected. It seemed to me, John McCain was not a chip of that frozen block. British readers will get the pun.

Opposition for the sake of opposition.

The losers oppose for the sake of opposing. Britain’s socialists and American Republicans like Trump. Once elected, the battle should be over. The job of government is to govern. The job of politicians not in government is to scrutinise. That is how democracy is supposed to work. Instead, both sides continue the fight to stay in the public eye. Meanwhile, the mice play, supporters get paid off, and the economy rots. Some mice get very fat, and gorge themselves: Big tobacco, big oil, carmakers, utilities like Enron, drugs, armaments, and big banks.

Promise everyone everything.

Rather than taking decisions on fact and principle, politicians will promise almost anything to get funds and stay elected. Electors become cynical. Only half bother to vote. Those who do, vote to keep someone out rather than vote someone in. Politicians and the media treat electors as too dumb to understand anything other than a sound bite and a pretty face.

The swinging pendulum

With the present system, the pendulum swings. Every decade, the electors get fed up with the party in government and vote them out. All change which soon settles down to the same old ways. If you want change, change the system that makes the politician.

Not a good system.

The present system creates two parties. Small parties and independents get squeezed out. Surprisingly the UK has three parties. The Liberals. That is a dirty word in the US where it means wishy-washy, indecisive. American liberals call themselves progressives. There are progressives on both main parties on both sides of the pond.

A combative system controlled by interest groups

That is a problem for British liberals. Do they work in one of the major parties to gain power to change things, or do they forever stay on the sidelines? The British Liberal Party was once one of the two big parties, in opposition to the toffs. Lloyd George was the last great Liberal in power. When the working man gained the vote, he voted for a new socialist party and the Liberals were squeezed out. By the late 1960’s the Liberal party was all but dead.

The UK fell into class war. One party funded by labour unions –v- another party funded by big business. And so the pendulum swung. The British economy was all but destroyed.

A bully boy system

It’s a very simple system but one hidden behind the walls of power. The person who wants to be the boss, promises a key number of supporters everything they want. They in turn promise others in their own party. Each promise comes more money and a title: Minister, Junior Minister  or Chairman of something. Each get an office and staff, and so government grows to a bureaucratic juggernaut.

When half the party are bought off, those getting the goodies bully those without. The bullying even has a name and people appointed to do it. The Whips. Whipping their own party into line, the leaders can ignore the opposition. Politics becomes as sham. Nothing is scrutinised. The press think the only thing to scrutinise is a politicians sex life or driving.

Ignoring the elector

So that minor politicians can walk the corridors of power and rub shoulder with the mighty, the parties carve up electoral boundaries to create safe seats. Those in safe seats are then totally ignored. Apart from elections, voters hardly know the name of their politician let alone ever see them. All the attention is paid to a few marginal seats.

In first-past-the-post, the two major parties share power over time. They prefer being in opposition than lose their chance of power when the pendulum swings. So they will use any tactic open to them to prevent changing the voting system.  

Is there an alternative?

At this election, the British voter had the chance to change the broken system.

A weaker system?

We all know the common criticisms of alternative voting systems. They lead to weak government, don’t they?

Then how is it Israel, although one of the smallest, is the most effectively defended democracy in the world? How is it that Germany is the most powerful
economy in Europe? Both have alternative voting systems.

A peaceful system?

The allies imposed alternative voting on Germany to prevent fascism rising again. The British government imposed alternative voting on the Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and even Londoners to prevent extremist divisions in the UK.

Are you too stupid to understand?

You make alternative choices every day and throughout your life, and yet politicians claim you are too
stupid to make the same choice when it comes to your vote.

Surely, we want people to understand they have choices and make wise, informed choices. Rather than explain the alternative vote, politicians set out to confuse and deter the voter. They started a personal row.

A positive system.

It’s odd that we vote with a cross rather than a tick, but you cannot vote against a politician. In practice most people do vote against, by only means they have, abstain of vote for any other. Odd system.

The alternative vote system encourages the voter to positively list their preferences. That encourages voters to think about the candidates and the decisions they intend. Then every vote counts rather than a quarter of voters as today. If you don’t get your first choice, you will probably get your second choice.  As voters made that choice, voters are more likely to accept responsibility for their choice and give the winner a chance rather than close their minds in blind opposition.

A lost opportunity.

I am not surprised the Conservatives campaigned against the change. Conservatives always do and political Conservatives fear loss of power. Conservatives arrogantly think they know all the answers and have the right to take all decisions.

Socialists mistrust any answer that is given by conservatives and funded by big business. Socialists want the chance of power to reverse all the decisions made by Conservatives. The leader of the Welsh assembly promised to dig the new £120mllion Cardiff Bay Barrage back out of the ground. The voter sits like the infant child between rowing parents.

The British Liberals don’t have an opposition position. They are inclusive, believing in the freedom of all to make an informed choice. So why did they run such a lack-lustre campaign?

In the privacy of his or her homes, every politician knows the present system is a failure and an alternative voting system needs to be found. Now we will have to wait a generation until the call comes again for a positive, intelligent, and inclusive system.

This week British voters threw away the opportunity to create a better world.

Posted by: Martin Scherer | 09/05/2011

Should Obama have killed Bin Laden?

As the dust settles, significant differences are developing on each side of the pond. I don’t think anyone denies Bin Laden was a war criminal summarily executed by the USA. Was that right?

Those now shouting from the rooftops are polarizing. Those who think it right rejoice on the streets of America. Those who think it wrong vehemently voice their opposition on European news and current affairs. I think both are minorities, not representative of most people who have conflicted views.

I am complimented readers ask for an opinion. The opinion here deserves no greater credit than any other and I think most readers are capable of working this out. Let’s do it together.

The lawyers

Lawyers are debating the legality with most concluding it was not legal. Lawyers have always objected to any means of dispute resolution other than by lawyers. If governments go around making summary convictions, lawyers lose income and jobs, and judges are not the ultimate authority.

Lawyers always make things seem absolute but then spend months if not years debating the issue. There are no immutable principles in law. All law emerges from circumstance. Laws may gain authority though time, or have authority through individuals power, or democratic process. All law is tested in the court of human opinion. That’s a jury. With new circumstances, new laws emerge.

Clearly, the due process of law is preferably but Bin Laden was beyond the law. He had no democratic mandate, breached the principles of international and religious law, and thereby had no right to claim the protections of law.

Justification for torture?

It was claimed, and then denied, that the information leading to Bin Laden, was achieved through water-boarding of captives. Sorry, but I don’t believe it. Such information is nearly a decade out of date.

Nor do I get involved in the debate of whether any torture is ever justified. There are legal, socially acceptable, and more successful methods of gaining the same information. Ironically, those methods originate in the USA and were crudely used by North Vietnam on American captives. Remember the US pilots who returned arguing the Vietnam case?  Why use a failed method that brings authority into disrepute?

Was Bin Laden guilty?

Was he a freedom fighter? Such as the French underground, Moa Moa of Kenya, the IRA or the Arabs of Libya today? By his own admission and the reports of those who knew him personally, Bin Laden relished in the details of terrorist attacks he organised. He rejoiced in the outcome knowing the lives thousands of innocent citizens of Kenya, Tanzania, the USA, UK, Spain, Iraq, and Afghanistan were destroyed by his attacks.

For nearly two decades, we were lead to believe Bin Laden used force to defend Islam from communism, atheism, Christianity, and capitalism. According to those who knew him, Bin Laden used Islam to manipulate those he sent to kill and die.

Was it right to bring Bin Laden to justice?

Sounds a crazy question but some claim Bin Laden’s day was over and by his actions President Bush seemed to think it wasn’t worth pursuing Bin Laden..

What do people think was Bin Laden doing? Running a free love pot smoking commune? One British tabloid has suggested as much. Bin Laden’s life was predicated by planning to murder others. Taking a leaf from capitalism, he had franchised his mass killing operation. Like all franchise operators, Bin Laden set the brand, the objectives and provided the role model. To evade the world’s military and secret services for a decade, he must have had god or the devil on his side.

There are no statutes of limitation to killing, let alone for mass murder. If society does not want individuals to take the law into their own hands, then society must ensure justice is done.

Should Bin Laden have been captured alive at all costs?

Depends on whether you wanted the media ritual of a public trial and execution, the inevitable risk of hostage taking and terrorist attack, and whether you want to pay the high security and trail costs.

If justice is human then not only must it be seen to be done then it must also be swift. The problem with western justice is the time it takes, months, even years. Meanwhile they exist in dehumanizing cells, day to day hoping they may be found innocent, knowing that relative’s lives are on hold.

Any true freedom fighter would prefer instant death, and would provoke his captors to provide it.

Was it right to shoot an unarmed man?

Shortly after the London bombings, the British police multiply shot an unarmed innocent man on London’s underground. There are always innocent casualties of war and I trust those charged to uphold the law in our protection will learn from their mistakes.

Bin Laden was no innocent, unarmed man. There was every reason to expect he would evade capture, even by death, was prepared for such evasion, and would sacrifice those around, even those nearest and dearest to him.

Paddy Ashdown, a respected war veteran and senior British politician, protests against the killing of Bin Laden, but does not seek to second-guess the decisions of soldiers in a war situation.

Should the White house have released that photo?

Someone will or produce a fake.

It may appear a mistake to release the photo of Obama, Clinton and others watching live in the ‘situation room’. That one has come in for more humour than most. What were they watching? Michelle demonstrating how to cook hash browns, the hubby President paying due attention as though he cared, whilst Hillary looks OMG is that how it’s done? And that situation room – how cramped.

Personally, I feel reassured knowing politicians saw the consequences of their decisions as it happened. All too often politicians are divorced from the consequences of their actions. And I think it right for the world to see the man as he really was. Not a heroic warrior but an aging back-room planner of death.

Should Bin Laden have been shot in front of his wives?

I’m sorry but I believe in equality. I have no sympathy for the wives of ponzi scheme operators, in fact, I think they were often implicit to the crime and should be tried alongside their spouses. If there roles were reversed, and Bin Laden was a woman, would anyone be complaining she was shot in front of her husbands?

If Bin Laden’s wives were captives against their will, they are now free.

Should Bin Laden have been buried at sea?

A Muslim should be buried facing Mecca. One British comic said that now depends on the tide. If Bin Laden believed in God, why did he insult God by breaking God’s laws?

Reports state that Bin Laden’s home country was asked to take his body but refused it.

I guess it depends on whether you want a martyr’s funeral and place pilgrimage. Pilgrimage to what? We eulogize the figure of Robin Hood, but the reality is Hood was a highway robber who shared the spoils of robbery with those who helped him. I don’t want to be PC about Robin Hood, but a pilgrimage to Bin Laden is an insult to those who did achieve freedom and through peaceful means – Ghandi, Mandela, and many more.

Is the world a safer place?

History suggests the world will be a riskier place in the short term. I’m not so sure.

For decades, Arabs have lived in poverty and fear of dictators. Bin Laden is the latest in a long list of Arab terrorist sponsors who directed that anger against the west, from Egypt’s Nasser, to Palestine’s Arafat, Libya’s Gadhafi and more. Each wanted a place on the international stage. One they had fallen, the world became a safer place.

By directing Arab anger against external factors, Bin Laden perpetuated Arab dictatorship and Arab poverty. I don’t think it a coincidence that Bin Laden was captured at the time of the Arab Spring, but I believe Bin Laden’s demise will hasten the Arab spring. Arab’s don’t want dictatorship by military or religious dictators.

Should the USA have outed the Pakistan’s incompetence and complicity?

The British would not have done that. The French would have allowed Pakistan to save face rather than rub the nose of  a junior allie in their own dirt.  Will the shame motivate the Pakistani authorities to act and will the truth give them the authority to act?

How has the White House handled the news?

Those with long memories are astonished by the conflicting statements emerging from the White House. Does it matter? Yes, because it reminds us of the march into Iraq without proper consideration or preparation for the consequences.

Obama has put his head on the line.

One principle of warfare, as old as the chessboard, is that you can capture or kill any piece on the board, but not the king. Not the Commander in Chief. Obama has changed that rule. An American President has legitimised the right for a government to assassinate the leader of its enemy. That includes the right to assassinate an American President. I wonder if Obama realises. If he does, he is a very brave man. The good they die young.

Personally, I have never seen the legitimacy in the King’s right to safety when the king sacrificing pawns, their castles and the rule of law and God. The only worthy leader is one who takes the same risks he or she asks of the people. When I play chess, I go straight for the king, and thereby hope that most of the people, their homes, and churches, remain standing.

It seems to me an American President has accepted the consequences and personal risks of Presidential decisions. I admire him for it just as I admire the British Prime Minister for state that Gaddafi is the target. Gadhafi’s only choice must be to go before he is got by his own people.

Leader of the free world.

Bin Laden did not attack the USA alone. Bin Laden declared war on everyone who chooses a non-sectarian society and the freedom to prosper. Like it or not, the fact that the USA brought Bin Laden to justice, shows the USA is the leader of the free world.

Your conclusion?

You worked all that out for yourself, didn’t you. The death of any person is regrettable and the rule of law is preferably, but these circumstances were not the norm. Like Hitler, Bin Laden was a mass murderer who caused more poverty, death, and pain to those he claimed to protect, than the enemy he saw. I think, most people worldwide would prefer to forget Bin Laden ever existed and don’t want to be reminded by pictures or prolonged court cases. They want to believe it is over.

Let’s not forget what Bin Laden did to America. The first mainland attack on an American city. A bloody nose that made a proud nation look incapable of defence and created fear of more horrific attacks. Unlike most terrorist attacks that are over in the moment of an explosion, the victims of 9/11, were tortured, as their relatives tortured, in the knowledge they were going to die. Some had the courage to take they only escape they had. They jumped. Images of falling bodies, too horrific for the media to show, but eventually seen by everyone.

We did not criticise when Berliners jumped up and down on the wall, so I don’t think it right to criticise Americans for showing their relief. Every November 5th., for 400 years, Brits have celebrated the hanging of the terrorist Guy Fawkes, by burning his body at the stake.

We should not forget the lessons that Bin Laden taught us. Peace exists where democracy, good governance, and free commerce exist. If we prop up dictators then we will pay a price for our ill-gotten gains. The free world needs a leader and that leader is always the most powerful nation on earth at that time. Yesterday it was the British, centuries ago the Romans, Greeks, Persians and Egyptians. Tomorrow it will be the Chinese. Someday the world will police itself, until then it is the USA.

Posted by: Martin Scherer | 30/04/2011

Remember the Twister

Having travelled the world as a child, one might assume nowhere is beyond my limits but for some reason I was never keen to visit America. Once I arrived, I soon found America a spectacular country of wonderful people. One day, I sat wondering why I had been so inhibited. The reasons for our inhibitions often lie in early childhood, often multiple reasons and often perverse. Exploring these reasons reveals how memory works. Whilst we do, lets pray for the safety of Americans whose lives are at risk while I write. 

Born in East Africa, I love thunderstorms. The first you know of an African thunderstorm is its the smell. Not a cloud in the sky, but after dry months, you can smell rain from a hundred miles. Cool and refreshing. Slowly the storm approached. A giant aircraft hanger sliding over, turning day to night. Birds stop singing, animals find safety, I drew the veranda curtains behind me to block out the house lights, so I could watch. Lightening. Count 1,2. Thunder that shook the house. The garden brilliantly lit, leaving an impression on the back of eyes for moments later.  That is called eidetic memory. You see it every time you look at a light bulb. It has no real significance, except to tell you not to do it again.

The storm raged on for hours. We fell asleep to tranquil rain and the distant sound of departing thunder. We woke to a morning dripping in rain, flower beds washed onto lawns, trees and bushes sprouting news leaves and flower buds. A couple more months and I’d be picking mangoes from the garden tree.

Moving to England I found it such a disappointing place. It was five years before I saw a mango again. At a specialist fruit stall in Soho, London. It drew me to it, down and across the road. I picked one up and smelt it. Back into my life flowed the smells, sounds, and images of Africa. We are taught memory lies inside our heads. It doesn’t. We don’t remember until something out there prompts the memory. Some people think memory lies in smell, but that is only because smell is one of the finest senses we have. Most of our taste lies in our smell.  

Away from the prompt we keep our memories by practicing, carrying the memory from one place and time to another. We ‘re-membering’. ‘Re’ means again. ‘membering’ comes from something that prompts us to be ‘mindful’.  Recall is not the real thing. It’s a borrowed, its a borrowed memory, divorced from its roots. We may remember the places of our childhood, but we don’t feel them, sense them, until we return. When we do, back flood people, places, events, we have long forgotten. We are often feel offended by people who have changed our childhood places for they have stolen our memories. There is no such thing as short, medium, or long-term memory. They are false theoretical constructs.    

Humanity has always personified its fears. The God of Thunder has many names, from the ancient Egyptian Set, to the Greek Zeus, Roman Jupiter, Norwegian Thor, Celtic Taranus, Mexican Jasso, Indian Indra, Australian Namarkum, Brazilian Tupa, and American Indian Thunderbird. If you are in Asia and a child runs past calling Idiot, he’s not insulting, but trying to tell you a thunderstorm is approaching. Only science and knowledge can remove such fears.  

Thunderstorms were rare in the UK and often remained in the distance. As a teenager, I must have been one of the first storm chasers, riding my bike and later motorbike in search of distant thunder. You can imagine what I really wanted to see on arrival in Florida.

A hurricane.

One year, I arrived the day before a Category 3 Hurricane was due to hit the gulf coast, some twenty miles south of our house. Unfortunately I was tired when I left the UK, had a bumpy flight and I’d caught a bug on the plane. I slept straight through the hurricane!

I was so disappointed. I phoned my sister who has lived in the US for twenty years and told her. Indignantly she chastised me. Didn’t I realise what a hurricane was? How terrifying? I didn’t expect that. I showed respect for her greater knowledge, but listened to Floridians who told me: Category 3, go to the bar for a hurricane party, with car keys in pocket in case it turns to a Category 4. Category 4, move of the way. Category 5? Run! 

I waited. And waited. For ten years I’ve been waiting. Only once have I seen a thunderstorm and that was a disappointment. Hurricane season is late summer and then I am in the UK. The closest I get to a gulf storm is to track it on the Internet.      

A twister

Then one day whilst in Florida, the TV reported a tornado that hit Tampa, fifty miles up the road. Not a big one, but it rooted me to the TV. Cold fear flooded through my veins. Why?

As a five year old child, on a trip to England, I watched silent movies of Buster Keaton. On in one a twister raced across the plains and struck, shattering houses to match sticks, sucking houses miles into the air in raging winds, to drop them onto the edge of a precipice as Buster Keaton ran unawares from one side the other to keep it balance on the edge. I didn’t laugh. It terrified me. I vowed then, never to go to a country that did that.

But I forgot. Memories are not ‘processed in our heads. I forgot because from the age of five until I sat that day near Tampa, I had never seen a twister on TV. A twister that hit Tampa,  just up the road, dangerously close, and without warning.  But for the grace of God, that could have been me lying dead, that day.

Today on British TV, I watch awesome twisters hit Alabama and Kentucky. Not just one, but one hundred, and more. Whole towns are match-sticks and hundreds are dead.

Only in death do we loose our memories, and that is why some choose to die. Because they hold memories too painful to bear. This is a time to hold those who are today forced to bear such sad memories.

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