Monday, 31 December 2012

Twenty Twelve: The Absurdity and Joy

It is always the level of absurdity and chaos in human affairs that captures my attention. In 2012 the gold medal for absurdity must go to the Italian judicial system. 
"Bonkers"

In October 2012 an Italian court convicted seven scientists of manslaughter for failing to adequately warn citizens before the earthquake struck L'Aquila in central Italy in 2009, killing more than 300 people.

The prosecution maintained that the scientists were not convicted for failing to predict the earthquake per se, but because just a week before the quake they had been overly optimistic about the probability that one would not occur! That's beyond absurdity.

While any number of candidates qualify for the bronze medal in absurdity, including the Church of England, the silver medal goes to the French.

Just before Christmas the French courts convicted a psychiatrist of manslaughter because her client had hacked a man to death. The 58-year-old doctor with 30 years experience was given a one-year suspended prison sentence because judges said she had committed the "grave error" of failing to recognize the public danger posed by her patient.

Having worked in that general field myself, the clinician does - to the best of their ability - have a responsibility for taking steps to try and pre-empt patients harming themselves and/or others. But if the above judgements are supposed to be a demonstration of 'Joint Enterprise' justice at work, then the law is bonkers as well as being a bit of an ass.

It's really odd how we tend to blame and punish others for that which we are afraid of or cannot control.

Among my best memories of twenty-twelve is the joy and goodwill that broke out in London when the country hosted the 30th Olympiad. The enthusiasm of the crowd and participants touched even those of us who were 'absent'.  I enjoyed that slightly 'bonkers' and fabulous opening ceremony.
The ‘top of my pops’ event was the men’s 200 metres final. We could almost hear the deafening roar of pride, admiration and appreciation that lifted up from the Caribbean sea, glided across the Atlantic ocean and over to the stadium in the East End of London, where Jamaica had just taken gold, silver and bronze.
 
At a personal level, after a 5-year struggle – perhaps more of a journey of discovery – I am full of gratitude for my health and being able to come back into the world feeling well and full of joy, having discarded a way of life no longer fit for purpose.

Later on today a section of the population will be celebrating Old Year’s Night (as opposed to New Year’s Eve)  and so shall I.

Here’s to New Beginnings!

Friday, 28 December 2012

The Business of Climate Change

The environment and the economy are really both two sides of the same coin. You cannot sustain the economy if you don’t take care of the environment because we know that the resources that we use whether it is oil, energy, land … all of these are the basis in which development happens.  And development is what we say generates a good economy and puts money in our pockets. If we cannot sustain the environment, we cannot sustain ourselves.” {Wangari Maathai, Kenyan Environmentalist}


Following on from yesterday's comment that the private sector was in large measure responsible for global warming...

For the first time in its history Wall Street, the engine of the market economy, shut down on two consecutive trading days courtesy of 'super storm' Sandy.

In the wake of Sandy, a group of British Fund Managers indicated to the British Chancellor of the Exchequer that it was time the Government took climate change seriously. 

So, is the private sector, the engine of economic growth, suddenly seeing the light?

Perhaps.

Jon Snow Channel4 TV news anchor describes in a blog his impressions following an invitation from a "big company to chair..a gathering to look at what they should be doing above and beyond their own core line of business."

The following are extracts from the blog that stood out for me:

"There was surprising consensus that we are living amid unprecedented global warming ... perhaps four per cent by the end of the century; perhaps six per cent soon after that.
  
In short, the evening became a debate about sustainability and the inability of the political classes to tackle it.

There was widespread recognition that this fight for survival could not rest on the state.

...there was agreement round the table that the corporate sector had to learn that the very ingredients they had contributed to this crisis must now be turned around and deployed to resolve it." 



Even if this sudden awareness and sense of urgency is based on enlightened self-interest, that works for me.


Jon Snow's blog: Last Chance Saloon to Save the Planet (28 November 2012) can be found at http://blogs.channel4.com/snowblog/                                     






Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A Natural Mystic

And it’s almost over for another year.

Christmas seemed to return in 10 months this year rather than the customary twelve.  I love the family gathering and doing all the things that I don’t do at any other time of the year: eating mince pies and drinking mulled wine; playing board games, pulling crackers and wearing silly hats (all except for the teenager).

But for many households this Christmas was a washout. Flooding came once more to the South-West and North of England, Wales and Scotland.  Several homes and businesses were inundated for the second time in three years, with families evacuated three days before Christmas.  Some businesses watched their merchandise float down the isles, as Mother Nature flushed the festive season down the drain.

Although in the UK 2012 began with a drought and a ban on hose-pipes, it turned out to be the 2nd wettest year on record. At any given time during the last week there was anything between 100-200 severe flood warnings, indicating danger to life. 

In the Southern states of America tornadoes on Christmas day brought death.  The severe weather system spread from Texas to Michigan.

Meteorologists tell us to expect more of these extreme weather patterns. In the meantime, the issues around climate change has slipped way down the political agenda.

Okay, but just a few questions: how much notice will I receive before the Thames Barrier, which protects much of London from a storm surge, is overwhelmed?  A week, a day, an hour, some minutes…? How well would London survive a Sandy?  Given experience to date, it seems that we need to up-scale infrastructure, and take steps to provide adequate ‘defend and protect’ measures for the areas of the country most vulnerable to the vicissitudes of a changing climate.

The UK Government’s climate change programme was first launched in 2000. It aimed to cut green house gases/carbon missions by a certain percent by 2012 (if that ever happened). It’s all very well to produce policy statements about intentions but what impact has it had on the ordinary citizen here, now, today, at the end of 2012.

ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE IS NOT ABOUT STOPPING THE PLANET FROM WARMING IN THE SHORT TO MEDIUM TERM; IT IS ABOUT SAVING LIVES NOW, NEXT MONTH, NEXT YEAR, WHILE MAKING CHANGES IN LIFESTYLE OVER THE LONG HAUL.

The 1968 moon landing generated amazing satellite images of the earth and revealed a planet of great beauty crowned with millions of kilometres of gleaming ice, with verdant continents and shimmering oceans. Today, just 44 years later, the picture is quite different.

Of course Government cannot by itself tackle climate change, it needs private sector input, which is in large measure responsible for global warming.  And what about the individual in society?  Ghandi said ‘you must be the change you want to see in the world'. But what does that mean for the individual in terms of a response to climate change?  It can mean whatever you chose it to mean. 

For me it means being informed and aware; being conscious about the amount of energy I am consuming (particularly food) at any given moment and for what purpose; linking with like-minded people; lobbying my member of parliament; never taking a doom-laden position on climate change, just being alert and conscious; generally making noise and being an ardent advocate on behalf of Mother Nature, my primary parent and carer.

Martin Luther King and Bob Marley were (and Mikhail Gobachev, a previous leader of the former Soviet Union, is) significant among the many people of our contemporary world influenced by the prophet archetype. Marley’s prophet expressed itself through the lyrics of his songs. Over a quarter of a century ago Bob told of a Natural Mystic blowing through the air:

            This could be the first trumpet, might as well be the last
Many more will have to suffer
Many more will die – don’t ask me why
Things are not the way they use to be
I won’t tell no lie;
One and all have to face reality now…

Of course death is never the end just another beginning – it all depends on one’s perspective on and perception of death. Unfortunately for those of us who fear death, this is of little consolation.

Contrary to all outward indicators and opinion, it is not within our gift to destroy the planet, but we can impact the amount and quality of space that is available to sustain human life; particularly the quality of life to which many, especially Western nations, have become accustomed.

Life creates the conditions that are conducive to life, and while we are currently ‘living in interesting times’, nevertheless it is an extraordinary moment to be alive.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Barack Obama: Prophecy?

So President Obama has confidently secured a second term. For a short period in 2008 I wanted to be American. I know the exact day and time when this wish flooded over me.  It was about 1030 on Sunday June 8, 2008. It was on one of those rare occasions when I purchased a Sunday paper, and approximately five months before Barack Obama would become President Elect of the United States of America.

 In the Sunday Times that day Andrew Sullivan, columnist and political commentator, declared:


Barack Obama will sweep aside John McCain and make history by becoming the first black US President

For Sullivan to “call it” for Obama so early in the campaign was an outrageously provocative thing to do.  But you know what, I believed him, and my excitement began to build.
        
Sullivan wondered whether Americans had fully absorbed what they had done. Just over 40 years after the Supreme Court had struck down the ban on interracial marriage, and 40 years after America had exploded with rioting following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, a black man - an African-American in the truest sense - had become the favourite as the next President of the United States.

Sunday Times June 2008
After reading the article I knew that I was about to witness an extraordinary moment in history, because it was all so counter-intuitive. You mean in a country seriously and openly conflicted about race, a black man was going to become its Commander-in-Chief, ‘leader of the free world’ and the most ‘powerful man on earth’. You’re kidding me; I was dreaming right?

If Sullivan could make such an unequivocal declaration, then I could add the power of my own spirit to the flow of invisible currents that was apparently propelling Barack Obama to the White House. 

Three months later Lehmann Brothers de-materalised leaving McCain looking just a tad inept. 

Then the Church of England got in on the act. On November 3rd, the day before the election, the Daily Telegraph commented on its front page that even the Church of England's prayer for the day taken from the Book of Judges (ch 4) seemed to back Obama. I hot-footed it home to see what the heck they were talking about. Well I have no idea which part of Judges 4 provided the Church’s chosen prayer for the day, but verse 14 goes like this:

          “And Deborah [the prophetess] said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand : is not the Lord gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him.”

          Can you believe that? You couldn’t make it up. 

I wondered whether any member of the clergy had picked up on the significance of their choice of biblical book, down to the very chapter (even if not the verse) from which the prayer for the day had been selected. Consciously or unconsciously the Church of England had apparently invoked the spirit. I found that simply joyous.

          Well its all history now, and I have all the memorabilia, including that Sunday Times article.  My desire to become an American ended after the party on Inauguration night in January 2009.  In any event, 300 million guns in circulation, and the NRA wanting armed guards with semi-automatic weapons to stand outside the schools of 6 and 7-year olds is a bit off the wall.

         I'll come visit though. Some of my best friends are American.

       Wishing you a very merry Christmas and happy holidays; with a New Year full of employment opportunities and a little less debt.

 

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Obsession and Addiction

It's shocking how many kinds of addiction exist. Often, too often, things that starts out as just a normal part of your life at some point cross the line to obsessive, compulsive, out of control. The thing about addiction is it never ends well. Because eventually, whatever it is that was getting us high, stops feeling good, and starts to hurt.

Dr Meredith Grey in “Grey’s Anatomy” (2007)
  
As you may have gathered I am gripped by (obsessed with?) archetypes and climate change. In my view the latter poses more of a threat to me, family and friends around the world than global terrorism. Furthermore, many of our habitual behaviour patterns – e.g. addict, hedonist, saboteur, thief – play a major role in accelerating climate change. Today I want to put the spotlight on the addict.

We all have a personal addiction or obsessive compulsions: e.g. shopping, computer games and the latest technological gadget, tobacco, food, prescription drugs, cosmetic surgery, nail biting, co-dependent relationships, as well as the usual suspects of gambling, alcohol, substance abuse and sex. Our addictions blend into the fabric of our lives; sometimes we don't even recognize them for what they are. Our addictions and obsessive-compulsive habits are masking a deeper inner need, which often remains unknown...

...It's strange how we can mostly get what we want, but hardly ever what we need. My mother often said 'be careful what you ask for, you might get it'.  It's only now, many decades later, that I understand what she meant.

Vested interests benefit immensely from our addictions: from clothes, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and gizmo manufacturers, through oil producers to drug barons. The parallels between our addictions, deteriorating physical and mental health, and the increasing pollution of the planet were thrown into sharp relief by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Following the disaster, British newspaper columnist Simon Barnes commenting on the spillage, wrote:

"It is more important to get oil than to stop occasional wallops of it polluting the world. These spills concentrate the mind, at least for a while. They tell us that our addiction to oil is madness, that our short-term thinking is madness, that our reckless approach to oil at any price is madness. Treasure this spill: it is a rare occasion on which we can see this essential truth of the way we run our lives with absolute clarity. We crave oil as the junkie craves his fix, and like the junkie, we will put up with anything to get it. But even for an addict, there come moments of searing clarity: a sudden revelation that this is actually a stupid way to live life. Well, the spill tells that this is a stupid way to run our planet…"

Globally we are facing the challenge of a compulsive-obsessive attachment to a type of carbon energy, specifically to oil and other heavy fossil fuel, which we seem unable to break. We will go to any lengths to acquire oil, including to the detriment of life, limb and livelihood. We remain wedded to the belief that oil production is an important part of our economic lifeblood, but in the ‘free market’ very little regard is given to effective safeguards against recklessness and taking shortcuts that lead to catastrophes. 


And now we have fracking: a technique used to extract natural gas from rocks thousands of feet underground. The process includes pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals underground at high pressure to fracture the rock and release the gas.

Those ‘for’ fracking point to the many benefits of having an abundance of cheap fuel for the next hundred years. Think of all the money you will save on gas and electricity bills. Those ‘against’ suggest that this process affects the water we drink, air we breathe, food we eat and the climate.  In the US, house-holders living close to a 'fracking processing' site, demonstrated on camera how flames flared up from tap water running into the kitchen sink when they lit a match! God help us.

At this point I take refuge in Donald Rumfeld’s explanation (to journalists at a NATO Conference in Brussels) of why a particular situation had arisen in Iraq. Obviously a participant in Werner Erhard’s training seminars (est), He said:
            There are known knowns – that is, things we know that we know;      
            There are known unknowns – things that we know we don’t know;
             But there are unknown unknowns – things that we don’t know we don’t know.

At the time some laughed at the then US Secretary of State, and what sounded like pure gobbledygook; but he is absolutely right! There most definitely are things that we don’t know we don’t know.

One thing we do know: catastrophes will continue to occur as the demand for oil and gas, and other planetary resources require exploration in progressively more inhospitable, dangerous and environmentally sensitive places. We risk saturating fragile and susceptible ecosystems, generating personal health problems as well as environmental destabilization.

When the earth dies, in time it will spring back into new life; and humanity does too – as a new civilization.

Like a moth drawn to the flame (perhaps a death wish?) I am a little mesmerized by the thought that I may be part of a civilization that will be wiped out by climate change. Or, perhaps I am part of a civilization that gets to re-imagine life on earth, once some of us arrive on the other side of the tipping point.  Or, I am part of a generation that finds a way to avoid, evade, or outwit climate change AND re-imagine a different way of being on the planet.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Message in a Metaphor


A visual metaphor is a device for encouraging insights, a tool to think with…that is, with visual metaphors, the image-maker proposes food for thought without stating any determinate proposition. It is the task of the viewer to use the image for insight.  {Noël Carroll, Beyond Asthetics}

         I am fascinated by the metaphors that manifest in the world, in my own life, and in other people’s lives. Their role, as Noël Carroll says above, is to encourage insight.

          For the last few months I’ve been listening to the artist aspect of a friend’s personality...but by the time the conversation is over, several others have also had their say!  Bet you didn’t know that various aspects of your personality will express themselves in the same sentence?


Significance of Cinderella's Slipper
My friend and her partner, a writer, founded a small community theatre. They create the most amazing pieces of work on issues that concern and challenge communities, such as Conflict Resolution, Education, Community Safety and Policing; Knife and Gun crime etc.

This year she stepped out of her comfort zone, and agreed to direct a production of ‘Cinderella’, her local Borough’s Christmas pantomime.  Like the gifted magician that she is, my friend and her team’s expression of the author’s version of the fairytale generated sheer alchemy on stage. It received incredible reviews. Last week it was streamed internationally to hospices around the world.

From my friend’s point of view, the years have gone by…after achieving an Edinburgh Festival “Fringe First” early on in her career (a very big deal indeed)...is there still time for the artist to paint on a bigger canvass once again? She is reticent. Should she seek an agent? She knows she really wants to, but after such a long gap....

Then a congratulatory card pops through her mailbox; on it is a pair of gleaming red shoes with 10-inch heels. The caption reads: You can change your world with a pair of shoes. Wow. If that is not a sign then I don’t know what is. Go for it girlfriend; your audience awaits you.

Symbols and metaphors are concealed in everyday events. There is the ‘thing’ that happens (in this case a  card arrives – no big deal); but there is something more behind that which appears, if we care to take a look. Metaphors are devices for encouraging insight but it is up to us (the viewer) to make of them what we will.

A Dragon Awakes
One of the global metaphorical symbols which captured my attention in recent times was the eruption in April 2010 of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull. Although quite small for volcanic activity, it sent plumes of sulphuric ash all over Europe.

It grounded air transportation for a week and left millions of passengers stranded in over 20 countries. It had a major impact on global trade. After a pause it erupted again. By October when the snow on top of the volcano did not melt, the disruptions were over and we returned to business as usual; what else was there to do?

The volcano achieved notoriety for disrupting ‘our way of life’. But it did something else. In that week the global carbon foot print was significantly lowered.  In recent times Mother Nature seems to be generating various responses to global warming.

The symbolism of it all says if we are not prepared to voluntarily put action behind the words, then Mother Nature will do it for us, even if it is also true that geological causes played a part in awakening the sleeping dragon from a 200-year slumber.

********************

And yes, I can hear you. It’s all subjective; you can read anything into anything. True; but then that’s how we create our own reality. The thing about a visual metaphor is, first you have to notice it; then decide whether it has any relevance at all to what is going on in your life, or in world, in the moment. And what exactly is the metaphor saying? Is it a warning, an indicator, an affirmation? And, we can decide to ignore it.

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Trickster as Teacher

I received mail from a reader who was unable to post a message following my comment last week about ‘Myth as Metaphor’ (see The Fool Unmasked). He asked whether I knew any myths which were more relevant to his African culture. Well yes I do….but not a myth as such, more of a folktale. But all myths are relevant to every culture. 

Archetypes are generally referred to as "the gods". It is generally claimed that Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and a founding father of depth psychology, brought knowledge of these innate patterns of human behaviour to the attention of Western psychology. Certainly all my training text books made the point.

Obatala - Father of Humankind
Divinity of Light
I guess he did do that but long before Jung, West African Orishas were known as multi-dimensional beings representing, not only the forces of nature but certain human attributes. Their characteristics and legend were similar to those used to describe the ancient Greek and Roman gods.

However, the Orishas were not seen as remote divinities but took an active part in everyday life, and could be called upon to assist with day-to-day problems. In fact ceremonies invoking the bounty and protection of the Orisha ‘gods’ were brought to the Americas by West African slaves. Orisha lineage may also be found in parts of Asia and Europe.

Eshu is bredrin to Mercury and Hermes of Roman and Greek mythology respectively.  All are winged messengers between the Divine and human worlds. In West African culture Eshu is the Trickster Orisha, undergod of duality, crossroads and beginnings. His folklore presents a typical tale of the Trickster’s intervention in everyday life.

One day Eshu left his dwelling place situated at the intersection of four roads. He was dressed in his new and especially tailored robes, designed to teach the villagers a lesson. Eshu’s attire made of exquisite cloth was red on one side and green on the other. A popular fellow in the village, Eshu was hailed from both sides as he sauntered down the middle of the road, with his customary bamboo walking stick and golden top hat.  

As Eshu passed, the villagers commented on his appearance and what a fine figure of a fellow he cut in his new robes. 

“How splendid Eshu looks in his red robes and top hat!” declared one person; “no, no” responded another, from the other side of the road, “are you blind, or have you eyes like button holes? Did you not see that his robes were green?” 

Soon a full-scale fracas was underway as others joined in the melee and punches began to fly.  At this point Eshu turned, and as the crowd parted to let him pass, those on one side of the road who originally saw the red side of his robes, now saw the green, and vice versa for those on the opposite side of the road.

That day the villagers learned to respect one another's truth. They learnt that their truth is not the whole truth, just an aspect of it. They learnt that perspective creates perception.  Like our disparate views on many things in life (religion, politics, climate change) not only had the villagers seen just an aspect of the whole, they had made judgements about the nature of the whole from their different perspectives, and were prepared to fight over their differences.

Actually, that very same tale is retold in a delightful illustrated book for children called Old Turtle and the Broken Truth by Douglas Wood.
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Sunday, 16 December 2012

When a President Cried

At a time of year when Christians around the world are commemorating the birth of the Divine Child, some parents in Newtown, Connecticut, USA are mourning the death of their children.
There are probably hundreds of children around the world – in under developed countries, in conflict zones – who will die every day up to Christmas and beyond. But right now the focus has been on what one British newspaper described as a massacre of innocents. How horrendous to lose your child in such a manner. Schools should be one of the few places where you expect your children to be safe. 
I worked with several of the paramedics who were first on the scene dealing with the carnage on the trains at various metro stations after the 2005 London bombings. Many, especially the younger ones, suffered severe post traumatic stress. Not trained for such horrors, those teachers immediately on the scene at that school in Connecticut will carry the scarring from that day for some time.
How many more terrible shootings in American schools before the authorities do something about it; before American parents take to the streets clamouring about the safety of their children in schools?  This is the 9th event of its kind in 13 years. If it was the UK the whole country would be in uproar.
           Are there really 300 million guns in circulation in the USA, more than one each for every adult citizen? Nah. There can't be.
      I have many good friends, and a god daughter in the USA, and everyone is expressing the same sentiment: something has to be done. Perhaps Obama will take on political opposition as well as the extremely powerful gun lobby. He can try. Don’t think he has any chance of success during the final period of his Presidency. Not sure that Americans are yet ready to relinquish their ‘right to bear arms’, but at least there could be better control. But how to keep guns out of the hands of psychologically disturbed young men?
Last weekend I heard about my friend’s inoperable stage three brain tumour; this weekend the news networks are filled with that horrific mass murder of six and seven year old children in their classroom. Perhaps next weekend I’ll win the lottery. 

Friday, 14 December 2012

Perception and Perspective

Interestingly the blog on Climate Change is way ahead in terms of readers’ choice. I’m surprised. My perception is that while many people do a bit of recycling, there is generally little engagement with a threat that looms large in my lifetime, and certainly my children's lifetime. Perhaps I'm wrong; or perhaps we just feel powerless in the face of something apparently beyond our control.

A viewer who appears to be an engaged environmental activist, took great exception (on fb timeline) to my view that the ‘ravages of climate change does not discriminate in terms of race and social class…’  He believes the key reason why little progress is made in tackling climate change is that the richer you are the less you suffer. After Hurricane Sandy he said, it was the lower middle classes who lived closest to the water line who had their homes destroyed by fire and flood.  He went on to say that the Dutch can pay for and know how to build dykes and barriers, but good luck if you are Bangladeshi. 

He has a point of course, but there is such a huge gulf in perception and perspective depending on who you are, where you live and what your experience has been up to now. For example, in my perception, extreme weather systems in the UK have caused the better off to lose homes and livelihoods. When fires take hold in California, it is the seriously rich and celebrities who have to leave their houses and run.

Climate scientists said if a storm of Sandy’s magnitude hit Europe, three-quarters of the continent would be affected and the whole of the UK would be totally overwhelmed.  If the Thames Barrier was unable to withstand a storm surge, like the one that hit New Jersey during Sandy, both the exceedingly rich and the extremely poor would be in very desperate straits indeed, including me. A brisk walk from my home will take me to the River Thames in less than 20 minutes.

My own personal view is that climate change is inevitable, as part of evolution. Neither scientists nor anybody else can stop the planet warming.

But excessive emission of CO2 is our main contribution to global warming. However long it takes, all of us will be impacted whether it is now, in 10, 20 or even 50 years time. But governments can and should begin now to invest in a portfolio of low carbon technologies, improve the infrastructure of towns and cities for maximum protection. New homes should be designed to withstand the worst impact of climate change.

If anyone in the UK watched the documentary on Channel 4 this week, it seems clear that the climate here has already changed quite dramatically and will continue to do so. It’s about defending and protecting as well as making a concerted effort to change how we live.  Unfortunately, right now it’s a case of, according to the Jamaicans, fiyah dehya moos-moos tail, ’im tink ah cool breeze. Rough translation: fire is about to consume you, while you’re kicking back enjoying the balmy air! (i.e. remaining oblivious of impending danger until it overtakes us).

[I just know that the Jamaican posse up there in North London, Wolverhampton and Grantham will  tell me that my translation sucks, but hey what can I say, I'm not Jamaican!]

The viewer referred to above said he works with farmers in West Africa and the only thing they have left to lose is their lives. :)

Up to now its is the pundits that talk to each other at climate change conferences, and we read of their views and conclusions on the issue in the papers.  But that is so remote, and often yawn-making. What about having a global conversation among the ordinary everyday citizen,  on the internet, across continents from Africa, the Caribbean, North and South  America, Europe, throughout Asia and Australasia; just so that those living on the edge of climate change can share their experiences with those of us who do not yet know what it means to lose everything.

The other day some boy wonder and his dad (a small British company) managed to produce petrol from air, as a demonstration project. Perhaps someone will find a way to stop the planet from warming. Anything is possible. People tend to dismiss global warming because of the extreme cold that Europe and North America have experienced in recent times. But that’s not the point. It’s about the climate changing and the need to adapt or die, literally. 

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Mortgaging my Life Force

A Long Blog by Necessity:

So, HSBC was fined a record $1.9bn by the US authorities for ‘circumventing banking laws and accepting the tainted money of rogue states and drug lords’ – in short money launderingBritain's biggest bank, said it was "profoundly sorry" for "past mistakes" that allowed terrorists and drug traffickers to move billions around the financial system. HA.

Deciding not to prosecute the Bank, the US Assistant Attorney General said the "collateral consequences" of doing so would have been “dire”. “In this day and age”, he continued, “we have to evaluate that innocent people will face very big consequences if you make such a decision”.

Did he mean people like me?

A definition of madness is to keep recreating the same experience expecting a different outcome.

After a number of 'near misses' over the years, 2008 brought a major financial crisis, generated by sheer greed. It shook the foundations of probably every nation on the planet. Short-sellers (those who divest of an asset in the full knowledge that the pice will fall and they can repurchase at a much lower rate thereby making a profit) exposed a system which, having lost integrity, had lost its way. When the music stopped, the behemoth that was Lehman Brothers was left holding the baby  and sunk into oblivion.

World leaders breathed a sigh of relief when, with some sleight of hand, they managed to avert a serious derailment of capitalism. Who knew that the next threatening economic tsunami was waiting around the corner. Not the collapse of another major financial institution this time, but the “collateral consequences” if a European country goes belly up.

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This week’s “bad day for the banking sector” took me back to 2008/2009 when, during a prolonged period of ill health, I finally ran out of money. A state of dependency in the Western world – in fact any world – means destitution and beggardom; there is no place to go except to Cardboard City.  I was overwhelmed with dread and panic as I sat in suspended animation and waited for the guillotine to fall.  Alligators began snapping at my heels – I would be referred to a collection agency, my credit rating would be impacted, my home would be repossessed.

On and on it continued, relentlessly. I wanted to yell "shut TFU". The bank had my number on speed dial. The callers and letters were cold and demanding. I was dealing not with human beings but with machines. I lived in a world of robots. On one occasion I asked a woman from the utilities company what would they do if I dropped dead tomorrow. She told me not to be so pessimistic! That was the Fool speaking; it actually enlivened my day.

I reluctantly considered additional borrowing on my mortgage, although an inner voice was insistent that this was a wrong move. From a point of general enquiry, my mortgage lenders – a highly reputable market leader – with which I had had a relationship for over twenty years moved with great haste to offer me ‘a great new fix-rated deal’.  No checks and no verifications were necessary to borrow an amount pitched by them at a certain minimum; I could not borrow less on this ‘great deal’. The marketing techniques were first class.

On the surface it seemed a brilliant deal. The company followed up with telephone calls and text messages encouraging me to sign and return the form as quickly as possible so that my money could be released immediately. Apparently I was considered a ‘good risk’.  However, their persistence set off alarm bells.  Perhaps that inner voice was right; perhaps my need for additional borrowing was not urgent after all. I read the small print with a fine-toothed comb several times.

All in all, the total cost of borrowing a negligible sum amounted to nearly one and half times the proposed borrowing, which could not be less than the minimum set by the lender. There would be hefty penalty charges for early redemption and my total outstanding mortgage would increase by over a third. They reminded me of their option to repossess my home if I could not make full payment within the allotted time. At least they prompted me to read the small print, as once signed I could not change my mind.

In short, this was the prime lender’s ‘sub-prime’ manoeuvre.

However, to draw a smaller amount on the equity in my home at the current variable rate, which would simply add the amount borrowed to my existing mortgage plus the normal interest, was a mountain to climb. It required various checks and verification of my identity, income, etcetera, going back three years. This experience opened my eyes to the efforts invested in keeping the unsuspecting and unwary in debt, the repayment of which lashed individuals to the treadmill of survival.

Money like every other material thing is simply static energy; it is to the world as energy is to the human body, they are both the lifeblood of the system. We exchange static ‘energy’ – whether that is cash, stocks and shares, precious stones or gold bullions - for goods and services to either meet basic needs or provide us with pleasure. When we deplete and waste either type of energy, and/or plunder our reserves, both the earth and human body begins to deteriorate.

Purchasing on credit to me is symbolic of tying up my vital energies; and the interest charged on credit balances represents others getting benefit from our very life force - a bit like the vampire. I now view interest payments as representing a drain on my creative potential, and constraining my autonomy. In mortgaging the home, symbolically we are placing a lien or bond on our own life force, until it can be redeemed. But then most of us have no other choice. For others that is not even an option nowadays.

I began to re-evaluate all that to which I had bonded my energy and put effort into extricating myself. With the exception of bare necessities, everything had to go. I was making a bid for freedom. Choosing to free myself from the powerful matrix of collective thought that drives consumerism and unconscious consumption triggered a rapid response. This consisted of inducements, duplicitous manipulation and the levy of penalties for jumping ship. One is left apparently exposed, in opposition to the rest of the world, out of step and isolated. 

But that is the power of illusion and we ae all caught in its tentacles.