Monday, 20 February 2017

The truth is out there - sort of!

I came across the name Roger Stone in the paper and decided to find out a little about him. According to Wikipedia "Roger Jason Stone Jr. (born August 27, 1952) is an American political consultant, lobbyist, and strategist, noted for his use of opposition research, usually for candidates of the Republican Party". That'll do.

Roger Stone has written a book about Donald Trump. "The Making of the President". That was quick! Maybe he always planned it, whatever the outcome of the election, but now, with so much attention on how chaotic or otherwise the presidency is proving to be, depending on which truth you believe, must seem like a good moment to get a book out there. You never know, even people who do not as a rule read books might buy this one.

Roger Stone worked on Trump's campaign from the beginning as a senior advisor but clashed with others in the team and left. One of his revelations is that trump trademarked his "Make America great again" slogan back in 2012. Was he already planning to run then? Quite possibly!

 One of the things Roger Stone has said is, “One man’s dirty trick is another man’s civic participation." Here's an example of a trick, found on Wikipedia: "In the first grade, Stone claims, he broke into politics to further John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign: "I remember going through the cafeteria line and telling every kid that Nixon was in favor of school on Saturdays...It was my first political trick". Little Roger started early!

As the man said, “One man’s dirty trick is another man’s civic participation." It's one way of looking at life, I suppose, although I prefer people who don't deal in dirty tricks at all. Some people argue that any means to an end is justified but I still think that a bad means to a good end undermines the goodness of the end. Once you dip into sleaze it tends to spread.

His idea that we choose which truth to believe has a frighteningly real quality to it however. He quotes the example of the death of President Kennedy. “There used to be only one version – the government’s version – about the assassination of President Kennedy: Lee Harvey Oswald killed him acting alone. There was no argument over that until the internet got into full swing. Today, a majority of Americans do not believe Oswald killed Kennedy acting alone – it’s amazing, the people have come to what I believe to be the correct conclusion. Without an alternative media today, you wouldn’t even have this debate.”. Choose the version of the truth that suits you!

And we all do it to some extent, choosing to believe the reality presented by one news source or another. We can try to remain unbiased by reading and listening to a variety of sources but there are only 24 hours in a day and the news sources are proliferating at a furious rate.

But we have to keep on trying because it's that uncertainty about the truth that has helped bring about Brexit and the continuing arguments about how to sort it all out.

(By the way, here is a little something I found about that:

 At a glance | Theresa May's 12-point Brexit plan

* Provide certainty about the process of leaving the EU
* Control of our own laws
* Strengthen the Union between the four nations of the United Kingdom
* Maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland
* Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe
* Rights for EU nationals in Britain and British nationals in the EU
* Protect workers' rights
* Free trade with European markets through a free trade agreement
* New trade agreements with other countries
* The best place for science and innovation
* Co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism
* A smooth, orderly Brexit

 Is that a plan?)

As well as Brexit that uncertainty also helped bring about the election of the 45th POTUS and we have his government which is either a smoothly oiled machine or total chaos. You can choose the truth you want to believe.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Commenting on things!

It's a rather grey and damp day. My daily photo posted on Facebook reflected that fact. A friend in not too far away Rawtenstall commented that it was much the same there. Not very surprising! More surprising was my sister commenting that it was also grey and gloomy in El Puerto de Santa María, Andalucía, where she lives. Maybe it's all over Europe!

I'm not letting any of this raise my stress levels. These days I refuse to do stress. I came across a Forbes list thing about stress levels. Forbes seem to do lists of anything and everything. It turns out that the least stressful occupation in the USA is hairdressing. "How stressful is it to be a hair stylist? According to CareerCast, a career information and job listing website based in Carlsbad, CA, it’s the least stressful job in America. “You work one-on-one with people, and you get the satisfaction of helping them,” says the site’s publisher Tony Lee. Hair stylists set their own schedules, enjoy a lot of positive feedback and they tend to make friends with their clients, he adds."

Is being president the most stressful?

In Spain Princess Cristina got way with it. While her husband, the once heroic handball player Iñaki Urdangarín, is facing a prison sentence (how long will he actually serve?) the judge believed that the princess knew nothing about what was going on. My sister, the same one as earlier quoted, comments: "El mismo juzgado que ha absuelto a la infanta Cristina condenó hace un mes a un joven a 3 años de cárcel por robar una bicicleta" - a month ago the same court which found the infanta innocent condemned a young man to three years in prison for stealing a bicycle. No doubt there is a back story behind the bicycle thief incident but there does seem to be one law for the rich and one for the poor. And I expect the Urdangarín family could afford better lawyers!

Today my sister also points out his little fact: "¡¡Qué nadie olvide que mientras se perpetraba la estafa del caso Nóos, la Infanta Cristina disponía de una asignación pública cercana a 100.000€ al año!!... ¡¡La pobre...!!" Basically, she reminds us that while the fraud that became the Nóos case was being perpetrated, Cristina was receiving an allowance of €100,000 from the public purse. After all a member of the royal family has standards to maintain. As she has been disowned by the family, I assume she no longer receives money from the public purse.

With the legal profession in mind, my daughter, a teacher, drew my attention to a company called Match Solicitors who offer help to parents who feel that their child's progress in school is being impeded by the behaviour of some other child in the class. I thought about giving a link to their website but I decided not to give publicity to this latest version of ambulance chasing!

And finally, a friend of mine who is a history graduate, history teacher and writer of history textbooks found some statistics about which degree course works its students hardest. Architecture comes top of the list with History and Philosophy joint second. I have always maintained, indeed I still do, that students of modern languages work very hard. We had to deal with grammar, translation from one language to the other, history, culture, literature, philosophy, phonetics, stylistics, history of the language, all of them subjects in their own right. I could go on and on. Those of us studying two languages had a double dose. We come about fourth in the list, along with Law.

So which degree courses are the least hardworking?

Well, Communication Studies seems to be bottom of the class!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Spreading the word?

I like to think that I am a tolerant person. People have the right to believe in all sorts of things. Which is fine so long as they don't impose it on others. What I find hard to stomach is the smugness of some believers.

The centre of Manchester is over-run at present with Jehovah's Witnesses. I don't think I am exaggerating. You leave Victoria station and there they are, just outside the station and again on the path that goes past the Football Museum and Chetham's Music School, one or two on either side of the path. You see them again on Market Street and in Piccadilly Gardens. They look glossy and well fed, standing by their portable bookcases, holding out copies of the Watch Tower magazine. The only thing in their favour is that they don't call out to passers-by but just stand there, secure in their belief. They make quite a contrast to the miserable homeless, even more ubiquitous, huddled on the pavements in their sleeping bags. I've not yet seen the JWs talking to the homeless but maybe I do them a disservice.

I seem to remember reading somewhere that it is a fundamental thing about the Jehovah' Witnesses that they are supposed to go out and spread the word. Okay, I can accept that. What I object to is the suggestion, not just from the JWs but from many confirmedly devout groups that it is not possible to be good without a belief in a supreme being. Oddly enough, belief in a supreme being does not seem to rule out being bad! I wonder how many good American Christians hold fast to their belief in the right to bear arms and, indeed, own a gun or two!

This morning I came across a news item about someone called Pat Robertson who wondered if President Obama and other Democrats may have participated in a grand conspiracy to bring down President Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned on Monday over his communications with Russia’s U.S. ambassador. Another good conspiracy story!

I read on and discovered that he believes God is on Trump's side.

Referring to a quotation to one of the psalms, "The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed”, Robertson said that those challenging Trump are really fighting against God:

"I think, somehow, the Lord’s plan is being put in place for America and these people are not only revolting against Trump, they’re revolting against what God’s plan is for America. These other people have been trying to destroy America. These left-wingers and so-called progressives are trying to destroy the country that we love and take away the freedoms they love. They want collectivism. They want socialism. What we’re looking at is free markets and freedom from this terrible, overarching bureaucracy. They want to fight as much as they can but I think the good news is the Bible says, “He that sits in the heavens will laugh them to scorn,” and I think that Trump’s someone on his side that is a lot more powerful than the media."

Well there you go!

Mr Robertson gives his views on The 700 Club, a long running series on the Christian Broadcasting Network in the USA. On the air since 1966, The 700 Club is one of the longest-running television series in broadcasting history! Amazing!

For a supposedly secularly governed country, the USA seems to set great store by its public Christianity. All presidents frequently say, "God Bless America". All right, that is gross-denominational, cross-religion but for most it implies the Christian God, I am pretty sure. We would be rather surprised to hear Theresa May suddenly ending speeches with, "God bless the UK".

And so I wondered where we stand on religious broadcasting and found put this stuff:

"British broadcasting laws prohibit religious organisations, political parties, local government and trade unions from running national analogue terrestrial stations. Some religious radio stations are available in certain areas on the MW (medium wave) or VHF (FM) wavebands; others transmit using other methods, some of them nationally (such as via digital terrestrial TV broadcasting, satellite and cable)."

I then found a list of ways to receive religious broadcasting in this country.

And my source of info ended with this:

"Although there are tight restrictions on religious groups setting up their own radio and TV stations, there is a legal requirement for the BBC and ITV to broadcast a certain amount of religious programming. Some commercial local radio stations carry a limited amount of religious programming, particularly in Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland"

So now we know.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Changing things and being the same!

So we are going to have a new pound coin, are we? Look out for the new twelve-sided coins next month and spend all those old-fashioned, outdated round ones by October 15th. Why do we need new pound coins? Is it to differentiate from the euro, a coin very similar to the pound coin? Surely it will cause havoc with all the slot machines. Think of all the payment machines at the exit of carparks and the self checkin machines at supermarkets, to mention just a couple of things. And then there are all the supermarket trolleys. Will we all have to carry one of those smiley-face tokens on our key rings so that we can liberate a trolley to our use?

I hope they use all the right ingredients when they mint the new coins. We have had quite enough uproar about the new five pound notes which use tallow in their production and are offensive to vegans and a number of religious groups. It has been decided, however, that these various groups of people are not numerous enough to persuade the government of the need to withdraw the notes and produce them without animal products. I have no objections to them personally, although they still don't look like real money!

Do other countries have similar problems when they produce new currency? Or is it a peculiarly British thing?

For all our cultural differences, fundamentally we remain vary similar in our various countries. All right, some are VERY different but similarities keep,popping up. My sister, who has lived far longer in the south of Spain than she ever did in the northwest of England and is probably more Andalusian than Lancastrian by now, commented recently about voting patterns in Spain.

Her comment regarded the difficulty she had in understanding how working class people in Spain could even consider voting for the right wing Partido Popular. And yet they do! A fair number of them anyway! This led to replies from myself and a number of her friends about the numbers of working people in the UK who puzzlingly vote for the Conservatives. I suspect the same sort of thing happens in other countries as well. And I don't mean just USA!

Then there are the fallen idols. When Franco died and Spain wrote itself a new constitution and everything changed, my sister and her Spanish husband were delighted to see Felipe Gonzalez become the country's leader. He was a bright, shining star, indicating a new and better future for the country. Now I find her despairing at the corruption that her former hero has fallen into. How many people here in the UK cheered when Tony Blair became PM? And look at him now! Cries of "How dare he?" arise when he puts forward his views on Brexit and the lies that were told during the referendum campaign.

We are all much the same under the skin!

Yesterday, or maybe the day before, my friend Colin wrote about names of films and posted a link to an article in the English version of El País about names of films in different languages. It's something that has always fascinated me. "Gone with the wind" became "Lo que el viento se llevó", literally "What the wind carried away": not a bad translation at all. Almodóvar's "Amantes pasajeros" had a crazy play on words to do with the lovers (amantes) being passengers (pasajeros), not to mention the fact that both words could be nouns AND adjectives, giving us "loving passengers" and/or "fleeting lovers". They gave up on getting that into English and just opted for "I'm so excited"; the song did feature quite importantly in the film. I never managed to understand why the Disney film "Up!" did not become "¡Arriba!" when it was released in Spain. For some kind of copyright reasons it remained "Up!"

Anyway, my friend Colin's link gave me this information about the title of the film everyone is apparently talking about, "La, la, land" (not "La-la-landia" but "La Ciudad de las Estrellas"):

"In the musical La La Land, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone fall in love while dreaming of making it big in Los Angeles. The title is a play-on-words that even an advanced student of English might miss. To be in “La La Land” means to be detached from reality, a state in which the film’s protagonists often find themselves, especially during the musical numbers. At the same time, ‘La La’ is a reduplication of Los Angeles’ initials – L.A. – which is often how people refer to the city that is home to Hollywood. The title even works on a third front: ‘La’ is the typical sound that Anglophones give to music notes, which stresses the fact that this movie is a musical, while in Spain ‘La’ is not necessarily the sound of choice for singing music scales or forgotten lyrics."

It was the last point that struck me. I am sure the newspaper people are correct about "la" and it's musical use. They are Spanish, after all. At least, I presume that is so. But I remember 1968 when Spain won the Eurovision Song Contest with a song called "La, la, la". It had a lot of quite patriotic stuff where the young Massiel sang about how she was singing for her country, which had been good enough to let her be born there and lots of optimistic stuff about how she was singing to LIFE and how wonderful it was. But they clearly ran put of ideas for the chorus because it just went on and on with a whole lot of "La, la, la, LA, la, la, la, la, la, LA" and so on.

Not so much forgotten lyrics as non-existent lyrics!

So we are more similar than we might at first appear.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Age-related stuff!

We used to have an aged neighbour who could barely totter around. Walking his little dog to the corner of the street was enough for him. And yet he still got behind the wheel of his car several times a week to drive his wife, even more doddery than he was, to the shops or to visit relatives. He would peer over the steering wheel, looking for all the world as though he could barely see where he was going, and edge his way, with some trepidation, out into the traffic.

Every time I saw him do this I wondered if he would make it safely back. Fortunately, there is not an awful lot of traffic on our road as a rule but still enough to make it a dangerous business to be a aged driver. Fortunately, he tended not to go out at rush hour when the road does get busy. Also fortunately, his car was as old and rickety as he was and so would not go too fast anyway. Or maybe that should be unfortunately; it was in no condition to make a quick getaway if a speedy driver came zooming down the road.

I thought of him when I read about Harrison Ford landing his private plane on the wrong runway at an airport in the USA. He misheard or misunderstood or just ignored the traffic control instructions about where to land and wondered why there was a big passenger jet on "his" runway. It's not the first time he has had plane-related mishaps. So I find myself asking whether Harrison Ford, at 76 (I think) should be allowed to continue flying around in real life. It's not the same as piloting a space ship in a film studio.

Don't get me wrong. I am all for older people doing stuff. I plan on being independent as long as possible but I hope I don't become a liability to others.

I have often wondered about the popularity of names. Names come and go. I went to school with a large number of Maureens, Brians, Sheilas ((sometimes Shelaghs) and Kevins. None of those names seem to be around nowadays. Sometimes you can almost guess a person's age by their name. Someone gave me this link to the most popular names in Galicia over the decades. I was struck by how consistently popular certain names have remained.

Maybe it says something about the basic conservatism of the region.

But, having taught classes where up to seven girls could be called Julie, I find myself having sympathy for the poor teachers. Imagine being a teacher and trying to remember which Manuel or María was which in your class!!!

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Taxing questions!

I had a letter from the tax office this morning. Nothing unusual. Just the annual thing telling me what my tax code is for the coming year. No surprise there. Everything as expected.

On the back of one of the sheets of paper there is a pretty graph, a nice circular graph, in bright colours, telling me what my tax was spent on last year.

A quite large chunk on welfare and health - obviously not enough on health as the health service is in such disarray!

There is the tiniest, teeniest little bit labelled "UK contribution to the EU budget". If it's so small, why was there all that fuss about the supposedly vast amount of money we pay to Europe? Is somebody else paying more than I do? By more, I don't mean MORE actual money; I recognise that some people pay more tax than I do just because they earn more! No, I mean a greater percentage of their tax going to the EU. And, of course, I know that that is not the case. I am not so economically and fiscally challenged!

 It does strike me, however, that it would be nice to be able to contact someone and say that I don't want MY taxes to go to defence this year, or at least not so great a percentage of my tax. Please can they put more of it into education and/or culture. Cut out some of the government administration and put some more into housing and protecting the environment. I recognise that I might be straying into cloud cuckoo land!

And yet I am not the only one who thinks that way. There is, I hear, a movement in the USA encouraging people to withhold their taxes. Perfectly respectable people who have always paid their taxes on time are stating their intention to pay their city and state taxes but to withhold federal income tax "as a cry of civil disobedience against the president and his new administration". 

Apparently this was quite common during the time of the Vietnam War, as more and more people wanted their country out of that conflict. And even then it was not a new idea; it's a sporadic tradition that has been going on for centuries. Another form of protest and a non-violent one at that!

One of those I read about is an associate professor of English and History at a New York State university. He says,

"My tax money will be going towards putting up a wall on the Mexican border instead of helping sick people. It will contribute to the destruction of the environment and maybe more nuclear weapons. I think there will be a redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy elite and Trump’s campaign for the working man and woman was an absolute fraud. If you pay taxes you are implicated in the system."

There you go!

Some people are afraid that they might end up in prison if they don't pay their taxes but according to a campaign group that encourages such federal tax boycotts very few people have spent time in gaol for not paying taxes as an explicit act of political resistance. They are far more likely to be fined and charged interest on the unpaid tax. Presumably it's a good idea to keep the unpaid tax money on one side so that when the time is right and the political situation suits your way of thinking, you can get fiscally straight once again.

And so America appears to be getting deeper into chaos and craziness. Lies and deceit abound right in the inner circle! What will happen, I wonder, if the whole thing implodes? If the new administration were to fall apart totally and utterly and both president and vice-president were deemed unworthy of office, what would they do?

Would they recall Obama?

Interesting times!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Professional considerations.

The men working on the roof of the building behind our house must have started work at eight o' clock this morning - tap-tap-tapping and bang-bang-banging away. This did not prevent me from hitting snooze on my alarm and staying in bed about half an hour longer than I intended. This is where the time goes!

I must confess to a sneaking admiration for the men working on the roof. They stride around up there, carrying stuff, putting stuff in place and manhandling huge roof tiles. They wear hard hats but no safety harnesses. My conclusion is that they have a great sense of balance or absolutely no imagination. Or perhaps they are descended from those American Indians who worked on the construction of skyscrapers, the ones you see in photos sitting on girders, calmly eating their lunch with about twenty storeys of emptiness below them.

Professional choices are interesting. For example, what do you do when you used to be a dominatrix? Why, you become a sex and relationship counsellor, of course! This is the profession of one Ai Aoyama who runs a small clinic in Tokyo, giving advice to couples. Appropriately enough for Valentine's Day, her first name means Love. Ms Aoyama, 52, is trying to cure what Japan's media calls sekkusu shinai shokogun, or "celibacy syndrome". Her profession is needed in Japan, apparently, because they are having a falling population crisis. A large percentage of men say they are too exhausted after work to think about sex and a largeish percentage of women say they are not really interested. What a sad situation!

Someone else looking for a new job is President you-know-who's security adviser. It is perhaps noteworthy that he was not sacked but resigned. Did he do so before POTUS was forced to sack him or is this because his boss really approved of his having secret talks with Russia? I wonder what he will do now. What kind of job can you apply for when you have been shown to be an underhanded liar? Politician, maybe? But perhaps, like so many of those around POTUS, he is independently wealthy and does not have to worry about working.

I don't have to worry about working, not because I am independently wealthy but because I have a nice, modest pension to keep me going. On Newsnight last night there was a discussion between Esther Rantzen, still going strong and opinionated at 76, and another oldie on the one hand and a couple of younger people on the other. We oldies with our pensions and our large houses that we rattle around in are held responsible, it seems, for many of the problems of the younger generation.

They, the younger generation, all have to work harder and longer to pay our pensions (no mention of various pension funds that were mysteriously lost along the way) and there are fewer houses available for them to buy or rent because we won't downsize quickly enough. I don't think that all of my generation can be held responsible for the cost of housing.

Even if we all sold up and moved into little granny (and grandad) flats, houses would still be just as expensive. Neither can we all be held to account for the lack of social housing, which simply hasn't been built. We might be held partly responsible for the stigma attached to living in social housing. Perhaps we all of us felt it was so important to own our own homes that not doing so looked like failure.

Nonetheless, it remains a fact that housing now, whether to rent or buy, is crazily expensive. There's a house near ours which I have been told rents for around £700 a month. And that was a fact that Ms Rantzen, in her charming way, appeared not have grasped. She went on about young people now wanting too much, how we managed without smart phones and two cars or more to a family and expensive holidays in exotic places. All of this is true, perhaps, but back when we were bright young things, setting out into the world, the cost of housing did not take up over 50% of our earning!

That's enough serious stuff for one day. Here's something else. Just as the Japanese have a term for "celibacy syndrome" so other languages have useful terminology. The Scandinavian countries keep providing us with intersting vocabulary. And so this is from Finland:


KALSARIKÄNNIT The feeling when you are going to get drunk home alone in your underwear – with no intention of going out. A drink. At home. In your underwear. And there is a word for it. Kalsarikännit.

They even have emoticons to go with it but for some reason they won't copy onto this blogpost. There you go!