Thursday, 28 May 2009

Consumption trumps production in carbon emissions

Interesting point made recently on George Monbiot's pages : If China is producing loads of manufactured goods for export to the UK - stuff that formerly we produced here - who should be deemed responsible for the resultant carbon emissions?

It's our consumption rather than (e.g.) China's production that's the generator, isn't it?


Friday, 22 May 2009

Psalm 82

When all the gods have come together
the Lord God judges them and says :
'How long will you keep judging unfairly
and favouring evil people?
Be fair to the poor and to orphans.
Defend the helpless and everyone in need.
Rescue the weak and homeless
from the powerful hands of heartless people.

None of you know or understand a thing.
You live in darkness,
while the foundations of the earth tremble.

I, the Most High God, say that all of you are gods
and also my own children.
But you will die, just like everyone else,
including powerful rulers."

Do something, God! Judge the nations of the earth;
they belong to you.

MPs Allowances

A friend has sent me a 'joke' for me to 'enjoy'. It portrays British MPs as ungrateful self-serving scroungers and ends with the moral : "And that, my friends, illustrates the fundamental difference between the citizens of our country and the Members of Parliament. Vote very carefully next year."

I have been moved to respond :

There are a large number of MPs who have not drawn on their legal entitlement (let alone been dishonest), whose careers now stand to be wrecked by those who have, thanks to journalists whose salaries often far exceed theirs and a stupid system of allowances that developed as a way of avoiding having to publicly increase MPs salaries (which are amongst the lowest in western Europe).

It is the allowance system itself that was morally dishonest, albeit legal and supported across the house. The disgrace is that Parliament resorted to that stupidity as a means of trying to avoid public accountability, and part of the difficulty was that Parliament itself was setting its own people's salaries.

It would have been far better - way back - to have had a proper, open, public discussion about how MPs actually ought to be remunerated. There would have been a lot of shouting about how a £67k salary was outrageous - but then most people have little idea what e.g. secondary school head teachers or partners of law firms get paid. And I have no idea myself as to whether MPs are expected to pay staff and office expenses out of that. In the end it would have settled down, probably on a salary level considerably higher.

To 'go behind the public's back' with the allowances system was insulting to the public's intelligence and good sense. I'm not sure who was really responsible for that decision but I'm sure it wasn't the run-of-the-mill MPs, who simply inherited the system. The Speaker was caught having to defend the indefensible on behalf of his colleagues.

Some have milked the allowance to the limit, presuming that they were safe to do so without it becoming public. A couple (out of 640) have gone beyond the limit into potentially illegal territory.

Most MPs — and I've known a good few — are model citizens, though like most of us they can get out of touch with reality. Especially those who come from very wealthy backgrounds - to hear some of them talk you'd think they still inhabit the 18th century. Most are no different from anyone else. When many citizens of this country abuse their allowances (not expenses) e.g. by treating sick leave entitlement as 'holiday entitlement' or making sure they're not underspent on their annual budgets it doesn't threaten the jobs of their colleagues : I have a lot of sympathy for those in marginal seats that can see their careers disappearing as voters, whipped up to treat them like scapegoats, and not 'thinking carefully' as the joke suggests, vote instead for half-baked or dangerous alternatives like the BNP or UKIP.

Feel free to circulate my response to your circulation list! As you see, I get twitchy when I smell self-righteousness and scapegoating. There is an outrage here, but we're in danger of picking the wrong target. Where did the secretive, dishonest and insulting allowances system originate? Whose idea was it? How long has it been in operation in its present form? Are its originators keeping their heads down, or are they long since retired?

Thursday, 14 May 2009

European Elections

On Monday May 11, Radio 4's 'Today' programme ran an item on the forthcoming European elections. The jist of it was "people aren't interested in the election and are ambivalent about being in the EU in the first place". It wasn't terribly difficult to produce evidence of this : a reporter had gone out on the streets somewhere in the Wirral and asked people what they thought of the EU. The only person who offered anything like a fact was a man who said it cost us too much : "40 million pounds a day". This was a quote from a UK Independence Party billboard, if I'm not mistaken - except I think the actual billboard says euros, not pounds. UKIP runs on a 'Britain out of Europe' ticket, although looking at the actual speeches and tabled questions from the UKIP MEPs for our constituency they seem to act more as a 'loyal opposition', querying budgets &c.

What would have been far more interesting would have been if they'd asked people what they actually knew about the actual work of the EU. My guess is (based partly on my own lack of knowledge despite having been involved to some extent with EU affairs in the past, and having visited the Parliament twice) that most Brits know next to nothing about what it does.

Compared with our own secretive government and the general user-unfriendliness of its websites, the European Parliament's website, is a doddle and very informative.

Most of what the EU does, it seems to me, is terribly tedious background work on harmonisation which is absolutely necessary and could only be done by something like the EU. Maybe that's why nobody knows what it does - it's just too boring to report. I'm sure that to some extent it's a gravy train - but, hey, nobody does the gravy train like a British MP!

Friday, 8 May 2009

"Judæo-Christian" tradition

Last night I attended a forum organised by the Veritas Foundation in which Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer (Head of Jewish-Muslim Relations for the Chief Rabbi of the U.K.)
Rt Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali (Bishop of Rochester) and Prof Tariq Ramadan (Faculty of Theology, University of Oxford) debated the role of the Abrahamic faiths in the public domain.

Many interesting things were said, which may find their way on to this blog. One thing that caused some sparkiness was the bishop's reference to the "Judæo-Christian tradition". Tariq Ramadan said - quite rightly, in my view - that this is a post-Second World War construction of the Christian world in recognition of its failures to denounce the Nazi holocaust. It rankled him because it excludes Islam, which has not been without influence on 'the tradition', especially in the mediæval period.

150 years ago most Christians wouldn't have known what 'Judæo-Christian tradition' meant : for them, Jesus was a Christian, persecuted by 'the Jews', and the 'Old Testament - read 'correctly' - pointed exclusively to Jesus. Christian scholars only started recognising that maybe Jesus was Jewish in the late 1800s. Even today, I bet most Christians don't know that he never stopped being Jewish.

I think one can overdo the Muslim influence on European culture. Although it's not negligible (especially in Oxford, where the Oxford college is modelled on the mosques/madrassas of the Middle East), it's only recently that Muslims have really become 'insiders' in Europe. But I'm suspicious of the way the phrase 'Judæo-Christian tradition' is now being used. Melanie Phillips is one that (if I recall) uses it a lot. It's becoming a phrase of the 'pro-Israel' (and anti-Muslim) lobby. The bishop, to my surprise, seemed unaware of this and described it as a simple 'fact'. If it originally served its purpose in challenging anti-Jewish thought in Christian thinking, it is now becoming a liability for quite different reasons.