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Tuesday, 30 August 2016

201. Change the Rules.

That is what Law is, Rules for adults.

If the world were a school, at the moment it’s as if the spoilt school bully and a few chosen pals are telling everyone else what to do while beating up the little kids. The rest of the school is just handing over their lunch money. The bullies keep their positions by telling us there are monsters under the bed and our problems are caused by the kids who wear glasses or came from another school or have asthma…

Ever wondered why so many of the rules seem crazy? Ever wondered why so many of the laws favour the rich and powerful? Yes. The answer really is as obvious as you think it is. Rich powerful people make rules that benefit rich powerful people. And we all sort of know that now. 

Between 1945 and 1979 in Britain things briefly shifted to benefit ordinary people. However, altering the rules again to re-balance society is now presented as ridiculously problematic.

During the Blair premiership a favourite phrase dominated the new ‘sound-bite’ politics – “difficult decisions”. Difficult decisions became a euphemism for getting essential things wrong (like the Iraq war) Also it became an excuse for not trying to do the right thing. So – not going to war seems to be a huge difficulty. Getting very rich people to pay taxes is, we are told, very difficult. Poor people will be prosecuted for over-claiming benefits, but the very rich are invited in for meetings to discuss how much of their owed tax they would like to pay – IF they are caught. Protecting the environment is always presented as ludicrously difficult and complex.

And why is the populous apparently paralysed? The 'F' word - Fear. That tired but effective tool. Fear, fear and more fear. Currently everyone seems to be scared of everyone else. We are even scared, apparently, of women’s swimming costumes.

Recently there have been public calls for two UK tycoons to lose their knighthoods. For those outside the UK let me explain. A knighthood is a social bauble the equivalent of giving a 5-year-old a badge. Depending on your point of view it is either a reward for hard work or a prize for toadying. People obsessed with position and hierarchy love this stuff. It is mediaeval patronage, feudal favouritism in the 21st century. Yet, in the face of the gross abuse of position and privilege, all our elected MPs can think of is to call for cruel greedy men like Sir Philip Green (see blog 185.) to be stripped of his title – take his bauble away.

It’s darkly funny and disgusting.

Following the letter of the law neither Sir Green or Sir Branson have done anything wrong. What is pivotal is that the people who made the laws by which we all live have more in common with Green and Branson than they do to the ordinary Jo or Joanna in the street. That’s why a huge gap has grown between what is obviously morally right or wrong and what you can get away with if you have expensive accountants and lawyers.

In the 1980s Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was able to radically alter the rules to further benefit the rich. It was as if Marie Antoinette, instead of saying ‘let them eat cake’ ordered the poor to give up their rotten food and sell their firewood so she could have new earrings every day. For over 3 decades no one has been able – or had the political will - to alter that situation.

In the face of huge opposition (even from some Tories) Thatcher implemented the infamous Council Tax which has led to decades of unfair financial pressure on ordinary families. She privatised the railways, energy, water and telecommunications so that billions of pounds of income that could have benefited everyone in the form of investment in infrastructure, have gone to private shareholders. With the help of the police and the BBC Thatcher mercilessly crushed the miners, devastating entire communities for generations. (By the way – if you have a twisted sense of humour you might be interested in the BBC is running a programme, today, asking Brits ‘how has terrorism affected your holiday?' I'm not joking…)

The point is, if it was possible for one administration to so radically alter the rules to benefit those who already had plenty why are we buying the lie that it is so very difficult, almost impossible to CHANGE THE RULES to get some flow back in the other direction.

Let’s change the rules so the morally filthy, filthy rich can’t ruin the lives of ordinary people for personal gain. Let's change the rules so that the public purse is not funding billionaires. They can call themselves all the silly names they like.

Change the rules or change the rulers.


Thanks for reading. 
N.B. my novels, children’s books and comedy autobiography (Maybe I’m not a Pigeon) are also available as e-books.
If you are interested in the environment Casey and the Surfmen written and read by me is available directly from Bandcamp -

And remember if you like a post to follow/share/tweet/ or whatever you young folk do. THANK you.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

200. Suffer the little Children – again…

…and again and again in Syria.

Early on Friday 18th August, the day after the picture of a bloodied and confused Syrian child in an ambulance appeared on the internet, the story was given a few seconds on the BBC news. This swift reference was closely followed by not one but two refugee scare stories. ‘People’ (a right wing newspaper) were calling, we were told, for the army to control migrants in Calais. These migrants were apparently menacing holiday makers with chain saws(!). Then on to a story featuring aggressive sound bites from right-wing anti-immigrant ranters in Germany. The establishment sub-text clear – yes it’s sad but help these people at your peril.

Having reduced the plight of the poor in Africa to begging advertisements on the TV, is it now the case that sympathy for the most cruelly violated innocents on the planet will be peaked briefly and only with difficulty? Will pity immediately be stamped out by scare mongering? Will the comfortable world glance just fleetingly in the direction of the misery as with the toddler being carried lifeless out of the Mediterranean a few months ago? Meanwhile, the media salve the gaping moral wound of international inaction with the poultice of anti-migrant alarm stories.

The UN Human Rights commission stopped counting deaths in Syria over two years ago because of 'lack of access'. There is no doubt, however, that of the many thousands killed and maimed, a significant proportion are children. But people are not numbers and numbers are not people. One child killed by deliberate adult violence is too many. Let’s face it – we’ve had a six-year inquiry into the illegal invasion of Iraq and we still have no definitive numbers for Iraqi civilian casualties.

In the West we think we are civilised. We no longer send children up chimneys or down mines. We tut tut when news items reveal another sweat shop in the developing world where women and children rot in darkened rooms producing cheap clothes and shoes for the UK high-streets. Primark was one such outlet and yet the news never seemed to significantly hurt its sales.

In the time of African slavery, white slavers – often Christians – kidded themselves that the people they were torturing, raping and murdering were not really human. When it came time to sell on their slave ‘property’ no weight was given to family ties. These black skinned creatures could not hold the same love and connection to their offspring as the white man - went the thinking. Globally it must be the case that those in power have the same attitude to the children of this war torn hell called Syria.

Many years ago I wrote to OXFAM regarding their campaigns to garner aid and support for starving people. I questioned whether they might have more success in the West if their images were of white people. The reply I received confirmed that aid agencies realised this was an issue…

And in a world where many are further dissociated from humanity by an ever increasing reliance on technology I believe the problem of failed empathy will only increase (see blog 147. More Less Contact is making us Horrible).

Currently the UN are trying to negotiate a ceasefire ‘window’ each week so aid can get through. In other words, so we can feed people while they are terrorised, killed and maimed. (see blog 43. Killing them Softly) We’ll have healthier corpses!

Everything seems topsy-turvy. In the UK, dog owners can and do buy clothes and toys and even holidays and ‘treats’ for their pets while on the same planet children go without food or shoes or basic safety.

In Australia, finally, one of the offshore centres for Asylum seekers (including children) – an abomination of oppression, physical and sexual abuse and cruelty, may be closed. In Britain we cannot claim the same. Refugees, including children continue to be treated as less than 3rd class in order to placate the New Bigotry given oxygen by the likes of UKIP.

Like many people I have contributed a few pounds to a couple of charities on a monthly basis for many years now. Organisations that I believe do their best to relieve suffering. But what can such a tiny amount do especially since Brexit devalued the pound. Also – what will my pathetic pennies achieve, compared to the billions spent on weapons by my government not to mention UK armaments sold to Saudi Arabia and used, for example, in the current atrocities in Yemen. The good seems to be obliterated. I feel like an ant throwing a tin cup of water at a raging tsunami of horror.

When I was a child there was a prayer that my Great Grandmother taught me to say at night. The words come from an old Wesley hymn

Gentle Jesus meek and mild
Look upon this little child
Pity my simplicity
Suffer me to come to thee

No one seems to be pitying the simplicity of the children of Syria (or Yemen or Nigeria) though many are indeed suffering; suffering, crying, bleeding, dying. The world’s morals lie in tatters; each drop of these children’s’ blood and each tear shed in fear, stains humanity.

Happy to say my first grandchild born on Saturday 20th August 2016 safely and in healthy, sanitary conditions and surrounded by help and caring as every single child on the planet should be.

And remember if you like a post to follow/share/tweet/ or whatever you young folk do. THANK you.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

199. Not OK in the UK

Since Brexit the UK is a headless chicken…

Politically headless, economically egg-bound, diseased with financial parasites, the media flapping uselessly. Willy foxes – rich men with an eye for a quick profit – sneak in and grab what they can in the panic and disarray.

Sentient caring folk feel like we’re disappearing down the rabbit hole. The horses have all bolted but stable doors are still being slammed. We are well and truly in the manure. Many important matters will now not get the attention they need as we are mired in the slurry of Brexit. (Alright – no more farm analogies).

Our new, unelected Prime Minister’s early headline statement was that she's hot for Trident and would be happy to press the button. But then recent UK Prime Ministers do say things just for effect. In 2014 Cameron said the UK would help rescue the 219 kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls. Then he promptly dropped us into an EU referendum making Britain pretty much irrelevant on the global stage for the foreseeable future. Nothing significant has been done to rescue the Nigerian school girls.

Of our racist head of foreign affairs, Boris Johnson, a little less has been heard. That can only be a good thing. Although with the PM on holiday Boris is officially in charge this week and there is news of him bickering with Liam Fox, Minister for Brexit. They are sharing a mansion/office and scrapping over who gets ownership of the excuses for Britain’s international economic downturn.

Democratic balance? The Labour party, the official opposition, is embroiled in legal action like quarrelling siblings insisting that mummy tell them what to do. Two off-the-peg white blokes, Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith, are skirmishing for position at the top of the Labour party as it implodes under them.

Up here in Scotland we are still dazed and confused following Brexit. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in Europe. Not only that but many here were persuaded to vote against independence in September 2014 as the ONLY way Scotland could stay in Europe. So, as you can imagine, voters feel royally conned.

Apart from the thousands whose pensions were ‘legally stolen’ by Sir Philip Green (see blog. 185 Does Sir Philip Green kick disabled orphan kittens in his spare time?), many other people are learning that pensions and a secure old age are a thing of the past. The stores looted by Philip Green are now closed with 11,000 job losses and the empty stores mar highstreets up and down Britain like brutally pulled teeth.

Free higher education was taken from young people a few years ago – by the very generation that benefited from it. So – debt and stress when you are young poverty when you are old for many.

Just this week Accident and Emergency wards of some UK hospitals were under threat of closure or having their hours cut and non-essential operations suspended.

As for the environment – that is way down the list of anyone’s priorities. At Druridge Bay, in the face of huge opposition from environmentalists, (see blog 188 Pursuit of Profit is a Terminal Illness) Northumberland councillors recently gave planning permission to Banks Mining. Banks Mining will now opencast mine this important wildlife and natural beauty landscape. There were the usual bribes of jobs for the area. It is a bribe that always sways local politicians but rarely pays off for local people.

Meanwhile bribery of a different sort was proposed in NW England. The PM suggested that householders in the proposed fracking location be given cash to reduce opposition. Next they will be offering people £50 for their children’s kidneys.

The UK really has no industry. The remaining steel processing was undermined by government incompetence and intrigue. Despite the belly aching of, then Secretary of State for Business, Sajid Javid regarding Tata steel in Wales, it was Britain’s veto of EU protection against Chinese over-production that struck a fatal blow.

London’s strength as a financial centre (and a great place to launder money) used to be flaunted. Now financial institutions are, none too subtly, leaving this locust-devastated field (!).

So, yes, in post Brexit we-didn’t-have-a-plan Britain, headless chicken syndrome is all around. Pundits on the radio swing wildly from absolute denial to ignorant misplaced optimism but down here on the ground, the earth is shifting, breaking up and retreating just like the failing Jakobshavn glacier.

It’s a mess of political feathers, social gore and financial giblets…

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

Chief Executives of very large companies continue to award themselves huge pay rises with an ever increasing gap between those who actually do the work and those who sit on company boards. So they're happy.

The folk we pay to look after our interests and monitor the corporate world – like the Ombudsman services – have nice secure jobs. They do little to actually hold anyone to account (in my personal experience) but it creates a nice veneer.

The banks have gone back to their old ways and even taken the opportunity of the post-Brexit muddle to close branches and cut more jobs to increase profits. Lloyds –  bailed out by the tax payer just a few years ago – has just done this. Bankers must be happy as pigs in shit again. (sorry – I said no more farm references)

Privatised infrastructure services such as railways also continue to mop up enormous public subsidy from the tax payer (more than when they were nationally owned) Then they pay out huge dividends to their shareholders while train services are an overpriced mess. Ditto the energy companies, water companies and BT with its truly appalling customer service record. All fantastic news for shareholders sitting back and mopping up dividends.

The Chilcot report on the illegal invasion of Iraq was a damp squib. After all those years and all those millions of pounds – literally nothing has happened. So war criminals can sleep easy.

And – it occasionally stops raining…


for further fun reading check out blog 12. Armageddon will not be televised.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

198. Just Words.

#I am GLAD to share this world with you.
A few blogs ago I bemoaned not being able to be more positive. Then two posts ago I did a piece about sharing the world. It gave me an idea... which could involve you.

It’s a very tiny pill to use against the virulent diseases of fear and hatred but let’s give it a go.

I believe there are lots of good people out there who do not go with the messages of bigotry and violence put about by exclusionists such as Trump and Farage. I believe a lot of folk would respond positively to common sense if the media stopped behaving like hysterical cheap-romance heroines. The problem is that fear is hugely lucrative and history shows us that populations will put up with many dark political arts if they are scared enough. (If you haven’t read Orwell’s 1984 or watched the old film version with Richard Burton and John Hurt you really should).

Globally, as the elite who have it all scrap for more, we do not need to be reminded that money is the root of all evil. In the developed world some CEOs rake in 130x what their workers earn and palaces and silly cars are the norm for many in power in some of the poorest countries on the planet (see blog 196 Sharing the World is the Only Answer) The resulting inequality of wealth and power exacerbates the instability that creates the stagnant moral swamp in which the virus of terrorism can breed.

Take the most obvious example of this process, the 2003 illegal invasion of Iraq. Only the most gullible and politically naive now pretend that there is no link between Bush’s fake but deadly war against Sadam Hussein (as he tried to placate his Arab paymasters and shield his family’s highly profitable friendship with the Bin Ladens) and current terrorism. Yes it is true that once the terror virus spreads it infects many who have nothing at all to do with any root provocation. Just as with Irish terrorism there was many a crazy, unstable person or nasty guy with a grudge who became its avatar. And once this virus spreads governments offer remedies that may kill democracy and seldom cure anything.

Around the world people who try to protest about inequality or even bizarre priorities of national governments are met with oppression and violence. Just look at protesters in Brazil being pepper sprayed by police and arrested for daring to complain about the cost of the Olympics in a country riven with poverty and health concerns. And on the same patch of the planet, in Venezuela, a resource rich area, children starve.

You only have to look at the defunct sports facilities being flogged off cheap here in the UK and the total lack of any positive impact on society with regards to the ‘legacy’ of the 2012 games to understand what a nonsense this is when the world is in its current mess. There has been no increased uptake in sports which is hardly surprising as many schools here have sold off their playing fields to developers.

Meanwhile the discord between the West and Russia is played out in the ridiculous debacle over doping. Why didn’t we care before? For the same reason the UK government didn't cared about Litvinenko until, years after he was killed, we fell out with Russia. Suddenly he was a cause celebre.

From tax havens and lavish spending in the face of struggling public services to gross consumerism as people starve (see blog 21 Save the Emperors Genitals - ridiculous wealth is ridiculous). From political spite and bickering while social infrastructure crumbles and economies collapse, to international posturing while child migrants, fleeing war, die or become ‘lost’ in Europe, we have to find a way to redress the gross imbalance.

Let’s start by openly rejecting the messages of hate and division targeted at the most vulnerable in our global society.

Are words enough? Just words? Well – its a start if those words are just, loud, clear and often repeated.

Over the next few days I’m going to randomly take my wee blog walk-about here in Edinburgh. I’ll have a small banner saying,

I am Glad to Share this World with You.

This is where vaguely modern (the blog) meets low, low, low tech or pre-tech even, which is where I am comfortable...

And no – I won’t worry too much about making a fool of myself – what is the point (check out an old post on that issue in the archives - blog 4. Dinosaurs cured my performance angst.)

It may even be the first ever walking blog – who knows. And if you or anyone you know is at the fringe and sees me – say hi and/or come and get a free, signed cartoon from my blog. My scrubby cartoons can be viewed in the post list. Or if you are young and in-with the modern world come take a selfie with the banner– you know I am rubbish at all that (see blog 53. I suffer from PANTS syndrome – do you?)

‘You’ means you dear blog reader but also anyone who also thinks we need to share the world and start saying so. If, like me, you think that a large number of the world’s problems could be lessened by the reduction of extreme global inequality then help me say so by sharing this walking blog.

Come on. Let’s change the message.
a pic of me with the banner in Edinburgh can be found in the post list too. click on the orange Amanda Baker top right or below if you are on a mobile device.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

197 Collateral Damage – a euphemism too far…

… as the shattered maternity hospital in Syria proves.

Collateral Damage is a cold, cruel and cowardly euphemism. It is an evil phrase developed to cloak the stinking cadaver of civilisation – an ineffective gauze to cover the curdled milk of human kindness. It is dishonest. It is fraudulent.

The latest ‘Collateral Damage’ was at a maternity hospital in Syria – the only working facility of its kind in the area. The people in the hospital may have thought they were mothers, medical staff, family, and newly delivered infants. No. They have been reduced to Collateral Damage, as the building was reduced to rubble. Victims included a mother-to-be who was 6 months pregnant and lost a leg.

Collateral Damage is one of the horrible side-effects of war. Sad but unavoidable, we are told. Targeting of civilians is illegal. Great. There is, however, a thin and often crossed line between targeting and callous disregard.

Apart from the deliberate dehumanising effect of the term it can also give the false sense that non-combatant casualties are a minor or infrequent event. But civilians regularly make up a huge proportion of the deaths and injuries in contemporary conflicts.

And there is something almost self-knowing about the phrase. ‘Collateral’, in its bare sense, means a guarantee, surety, security. In monetary terms collateral is something you might put up to secure a loan for example. There is nothing secure or guaranteed about being an innocent civilian in this world. Innocence buys you nothing.

This latest incident briefly grabbed a headline because of the very obviously awful nature of the result when the maternity hospital at Kafar Takharim was hit. But for the vast majority of us who have no choice about whether war is waged or not, the idea of being caught up in fatal violence and gross brutality is something we cannot imagine. For many other poor unfortunates, it is a real possibility every minute of every day.

Language in war is an interesting area. Many years ago there was a popular term ‘Human Shields’. This term referred to civilians who were used by combatants to protect themselves from their adversaries. I recall claim and counter-claim that armed groups planted themselves near or within civilian populations to deter the enemy attacking them. ‘Human Shields’ as a term, is almost redundant now. Harming civilians seems to have become accepted and acceptable. That is why Collateral Damage as a term has become embedded. What it tells us is – killing innocent by-standers is no longer a deterrent. The presence of women, children, the sick, the elderly, anyone who has no choice to be in the vicinity will not stop the pulling of triggers, the detonating of explosives, the aerial bombardments. If you happen to be in the way – tough.
It is disgusting.

As aid agencies and charities and human rights groups trying to operate in these hell holes, condemn the human carnage, the standard response is one of regret (from whichever side) or blame. The idea that this is just what you put up with in war seems to have taken hold. And yet those who use the phrase show that they understand the vile nature of these acts and their callous attitude to them by using the term. They cannot call it what it is. They have invented this term to protect themselves and shield the sensibilities of the public in their own countries where they know the dark killing of innocent by-standers could not be covered by fair words.

It is a classic indicator of the world’s double standards.

The people injured are not like you and me and the building damaged when the maternity hospital was hit was not vital for the very basics of a safe beginning in life – they were just Collateral Damage.

And as the rock of war is dropped into social ponds around the world the destabilising ripples spread ever outwards. The men women and children daily blown up in Iraq by warring factions in a fractured country are Collateral Damage. Children separated from their parents and the protection of properly organised society, as they flee war zones, put at the mercy of bandits and traffickers are also Collateral Damage. There is always something more important than their safety.

Old people and the sick and disabled unable to get health care because their country’s systems of social care have been obliterated are Collateral Damage. We know roughly the numbers of combatants killed and maimed but those we refer to as Collateral Damage whether in the immediate aftermath of a skirmish or in the horrible months that follow, are too numerous to count. Nobody knows, for example, how many civilians died during and after the invasion of Iraq. They are unknown and uncounted.

Surely it’s time to name this barbarity, this denial of humanity. It is the harming and mass murder of innocents.

The new UK government – with its unelected leader - was quick to confirm the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapon. And Prime Minister Mrs May was quicker to confirm that she would be completely comfortable pressing the trigger.

If you can, put aside the billions to be wasted on this murderous vanity project. Think instead of this. When some idiot – in this country or another - finally presses the trigger there will be no Collateral Damage.

Because there will be no one left to utter that lie.